Although divorce or separation frees you of your marital bonds, the duties and obligations you have to your children requires you to continue dealing with your spouse on a regular basis. Unless you are barred from contact through a restraining order, it's in everyone's best interests to maintain civility for the sake of the children. In addition, both you and your ex are probably aware of the emotional and financial costs of litigation, depending on how you resolved your divorce. Thus, you accept that your children will be living under a different set of rules while in the other parent's care. They may be exposed to people, ideas and experiences that you would not have chosen, but you accept that this is a natural consequence of divorce.
However, matters of a spiritual and/or cultural nature can be extremely difficult to work through. In particular, the idea of changing a child's religion hits a nerve with many parents, who take it as an attack not only on themselves, but on their spiritual community. The situation is even worse when the other parent chooses a religion that is in direct conflict with their own religion. There are also extreme cases where a parent feels that their child would be in danger by being exposed to certain religious practices.
If you are in this situation, you may be wondering what legal actions you can take against your
spouse. This is a complicated issue because it involves weighing your parental rights, as well as that of your former spouse, against the best interests of your child. It also involves the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees parents the right to raise their children in the religion of their choosing. Of course, this is not so simple when the parents are living two separate lives via divorce or separation. As a general rule, the courts must respect the religious rights of both parents, which means that each parent can choose to raise the child in a religion of his or her choice. The courts will overrule a parent only in the case where the religion poses "actual or substantial harm" to the child.
There are no specific guidelines for determining which actions cause actual or substantial harm, so you will need to speak to an attorney about your own situation. An experienced family law attorney can give you examples of cases that have been successfully argued in the New Jersey family courts. He or she can also advise you on the pros and cons of going to court, and whether or not you have a strong case based on current laws and legal precedents. If there is good cause to believe that your child is in danger, our lawyers can assist you with other legal actions such as asking the court for primary custody. To find out more about your parental right and legal options, please schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.
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