It is important that parents work to preserve their parental rights if they go through separations or divorces so that they may stay involved in the important decision-making processes that go into raising their children. For example, a California parent who has sole or joint legal custody of their child should be able to voice their preferences and concerns regarding important issues, such as schooling and religion, and have their sentiments acknowledged by the courts. However, when parents simply cannot agree on how these topics should be addressed and courts must make decisions for them, there are a number of factors that must be weighed.

With regard to religion, courts in California will look to the best interests of the children and the rights of the parents when determining which, if any, religion a child should be exposed to by their parents. Additionally, courts will apply an actual or substantial harm standard to the parents’ religious preferences, which means that if a parent’s religious practices expose the child to actual or substantial harm then the parent’s First Amendment right to choose a religion will be limited with regard to their child.

It is a careful and sometimes difficult balance for courts to strike to decide how religious matters should be handled in child custody cases. As such, readers who have further questions about this sensitive legal topic are encouraged to speak with their family law attorneys about their concerns.

If a parent’s chosen religion will cause a child to experience actual or substantial harm then a court will likely find that the parent does not have the right to expose the child to it. That standard, considered with the child’s best interests and the custodial rights of the parents will give courts much to evaluate when deciding matters of religion in their family law cases.