When couples of different religious faiths divorce, the decision about in which faith to raise the children may become a point of contention. Even parents who attend services only on major religious holidays and who haven’t spent much time passing their faith and its traditions down to their children can suddenly become extremely concerned about their children’s religion in divorce. Often, parents who aren’t getting primary custody of their kids begin to fear that their kids will grow up solely in their custodial parent’s faith.
Regardless of how physical custody is shared, decisions regarding a child’s religious upbringing are not affected. Each parent has the absolute right (protected by the U.S. Constitution) to educate their child in the religion of their choice during their times of possession of the child.
If a case ends up in front of the court, judges are prohibited (by the Freedom of Religion Clause in the U.S. Constitution) from making any determination or expressing any preference about either parent educating the child in one religion over another. It is actually fairly common for a child of divorce to go through both a Catholic confirmation and a bar mitzvah. Or, to learn both Muslim and Hindu traditions. The only potential issues for a court to determine with regard to religion might include scheduling time to allow for the celebration of the various holidays with each parent, or to allow for religious education that may only occur on certain days. So, for example, a Christian parent may have the child every Easter Sunday, while the Jewish parent may have the child every year for the first night of Passover.
Judges don’t look kindly on one parent who attempts to prevent their co-parent from exposing their child to their religion during whatever time they’re together or in any way attempting to alienate a child from the other parent’s religion. Children identify with both parents, and bad-mouthing the other parent’s faith is only damaging to the child.
Children can learn a lot by being exposed to more than one faith. A child of a Jewish mother and Catholic father may choose to follow one of those faiths as an adult, perhaps not consider themselves a member of either, or decide to become Buddhist. However, parents should never try to convince their children that one religion is “right” or “better” or use religion as yet another front in the battle over their children.