Spiritual Custody Disputes

The recent media coverage regarding the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes has brought to light custody issues that many parents may not be aware of: Spiritual Custody.  Spiritual custody comes into play when divorcing parents cannot come to an agreement about the religious upbringing of their children.  Typically, these disputes come from interfaith marriages that have ended up as interfaith divorces.

This creates a difficult situation for the courts and legal professionals, not to mention the children that are caught in the middle of such disputes.  In our system of government it is required to separate church and state. The courts cannot determine the one true path to God or even godlessness.  The courts are then left with determining what is “in the best interest of the children”.

Carmel divorce attorney, Clarissa Finnell, explains more about case law in Indiana concerning spiritual custody.  “Typically, a judge will look at the parent’s spiritual/religious practices in regards to their children prior to the divorce and keep the agreement similar to their previous arrangements.”  For example, if one parent was Catholic and the other Jewish, and the children had been attending a synagogue while the parents were married, a judge would usually rule for the children to continue that practice.  Finnell goes on to say, “Most interfaith parents have already decided how they are going to raise their children, in regards to theology, such as which holidays they will celebrate and where they will worship.  A judge wouldn’t rule to change those practices just because the couple is divorcing.”

There was a case in Indiana in which a divorcing couple who practiced Wicca was ordered to “take such steps as are needed to shelter [the child] from involvement and observation of these non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.” The father appealed the decision and the court of appeals overturned the order.  They ruled that “parents have a constitutionally recognized fundamental right to control the upbringing, education, and religious training of their children”.   It’s when the parents disagree on that religious training that legal professionals and the courts run up against tougher decisions.

Parents may define a child’s best interest in the condition of his soul. But the law can only assess it in the condition of his psyche.

To learn more about child custody in Indiana, click here.

Remember, these suggestions are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation. 

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