Shared Custody Agreements and Religion

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Friday, January 18, 2013.

Joint child custody in parenting plans and agreements help resolve a lot of the child timesharing issues after the divorce. But sometimes the provisions conflict with each other. The Volokh Conspiracy recently reported on the interesting New York case of Katz v. Katz. Katz involves two ultra-orthodox Jewish parents. The parties separated religiously, but never had a court approve their agreement. The agreement said:

(7) JOYOUS OCCASIONS. The Child will participate in every joyous occasion of the relatives who are disqualified as witnesses, such as engagement, wedding . . .

(8) EDUCATION. The 2 parties are obligating themselves to raise The Child to appropriately respect the 2 parents. . . No party will take The Child to any place which is incompatible with the aforementioned style and manner, not even temporarily . . .

The mother wanted to travel to Israel with the child for her brother’s wedding. The father objected, citing his religious beliefs that travel to Israel violated the religious views of his Jewish sect. He argued travel to Israel would undermine the child’s religious beliefs, confuse the child and “would be against the child’s best interests because he is too young to understand the differences that he will be exposed to in Israel . . .”

The mother noted that the father himself has already traveled to Israel – in fact he acknowledged that he traveled to Israel three times, and as recently as within the last 12 months, but that each time he traveled to Israel it was in his adult life, not as a child.

Strangely, the judge ruled:

At this juncture, it is not in this child’s best interest to require him to travel to Israel for a celebration; the emotional risk to him outweighs any benefit that conceivably would be derived from the experience. Furthermore, the mother did not demonstrate any serious adverse affects that would be contrary to the child’s best interests if he were to stay.

As a side note, religion and divorce often get thrown together, such as in the Muslim Mehr agreements I blogged about earlier. The establishment clause tries to separate government and religion, but Katz shows why it can’t be avoided sometimes. However, the Establishment Clause is usually not violated when neutral principles of law, such as the best interest of the child test, can resolve a dispute without relying on religious doctrines.