Religion and Divorce in North Carolina

We live in a country with very clear religious freedoms. But even in the most democratic and free society, conflicts can arise. One clear example is in the case of a divorce in North Carolina when parents have different religious beliefs. What happens to the child in this scenario? Which religion does the child follow when each parent has their own unique ideas about what the child should believe? While today's America contains fewer religious people than ever before, this is still a significant issue in North Carolina. Understanding how these conflicts can be resolved is essential if you and your spouse have drastically different religious beliefs. 

Of course, these conflicts become much easier to resolve when you enlist the help of a qualified, experienced family law attorney. Not only can we explain how these conflicts are fixed, but we can also guide you through the process. 

The Child's Best Interests Come First

The first thing you need to understand about custody decisions in North Carolina is that the child's best interests are the top priority. Whenever a judge makes a decision about custody, they only consider how certain arrangements may affect the child. In contrast, judges pay virtually zero attention to the needs, wishes, and requirements of the parent. It is all about the child, period. 

This means that when considering disputes over a child's religious education after a divorce, judges will consider how a child's life will be affected while being influenced by the religious beliefs of each parent. Judges will then choose the most beneficial result for the child. So, what does this all mean for you? Essentially, you need to show the judge that if your child lives with you, they would benefit from your religious influences. 

Joint Legal Custody

The most common result is joint legal custody. This is when both parents have an equal say in all critical decisions that impact a child's life. These include education, healthcare, and of course, religion. When parents have joint legal custody, they must both agree on all decisions that affect these areas. One parent cannot decide without the other parent's permission. For example, a parent who wants to switch a child's religion from Catholicism to Judaism would need the express permission of the other parent in a joint legal custody scenario. 

The First Amendment

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution prevents courts from giving one parent preferential treatment because of their religious beliefs. For example, a judge cannot award sole custody to a mother simply because she is Christian, and her former husband is Jewish. Once again, the only thing a judge can consider is the child's best interests. The actual teachings or philosophies of a particular religion do not usually play a role in the decision-making process.

However, there are certain exceptions. Courts can come to the conclusion that certain religious practices are actually harmful to a child. For example, a religion might prevent a parent from getting the medical treatment they need. In this situation, a court might decide it is better for the child to live with a different parent who does not share these beliefs.

How are Conflicts Resolved?

If religious conflicts arise prior to the divorce, the goal of the court is to create the least possible disturbance between the parents and the children. Usually, this means granting shared legal custody, allowing parents to get together and agree on the best possible course of action for their children. 

But what happens when parents cannot agree on the best course of action after being granted shared legal custody? One parent may be forced to file a petition for the modification of the child custody agreement. This means that both parents will return to court, and a judge will then have to decide how to resolve the dispute. 

The final decision may be based on a number of factors. Judges may consider the amount of effort and time each parent has put into the religious and spiritual education of the child. If one parent seems more passionate and involved in the religious upbringing of their child, they may have a more substantial chance of reaching a favorable legal outcome. Modifying child support can result in one parent having sole decision-making authority over the child's religion. However, all other aspects of the child's upbringing can adhere to a typical shared custody agreement. 

Enlist the Help of a Qualified, Experienced Attorney Today

If you have been searching for a qualified, experienced divorce attorney in North Carolina, look no further than Arnold & Smith, PLLC. We understand the importance of religion for many parents in the Tar Heel State. We also appreciate how frustrating it can be to watch your former spouse influence your child's beliefs, steering their worldview toward something you do not agree with. Each parent should have a say in the religious beliefs of their children, but sometimes you need to take legal action to protect your rights as a parent. Reach out and book your consultation today.