Katie Homes & Tom Cruise: Can Court’s Choose a Child’s Religion?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Support on Wednesday, July 18, 2012.

Child custody cases always raise interesting issues. One of the questions in the Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise divorce is what religion will the child be raised in after the divorce. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, and Katie Holmes is reportedly a Catholic. TomKat are not alone, about 27% of Americans were in interfaith marriages according to the Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Happily for them – but not so much for the media – Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have reached a settlement in their divorce. But, when divorcing parents can’t agree about religion, can it be a factor in a custody case?

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position. There is nothing in our custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution. So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge.

Ironically, that may not be the rule all over Florida. Different appellate courts in Florida have slightly different takes on the issue, and the question of whether a trial court can consider a parent’s religious beliefs as a factor in determining custody has been allowed. For this reason, it is best to speak to an attorney experienced in child custody matters.