The issue of child custody and religion is once again in the forefront with the split between two celebrities who share different religious views. Those two celebrities are Katie Holmes, who was raised Catholic, and Tom Cruise, who is a Christian Scientist.
Although there are many factors involved in determining child custody, religion is one of the most important considerations. When two parents have different religious beliefs, religion becomes an issue when they separate as each parent will prefer their child be raised in the faith he or she has chosen to follow.
The parent with primary custody usually determines the major life choices in the child’s life, such as religion, until the child is determined old enough by law to make those decisions himself. When the child comes of age, then he can decide which religion, if any, he will follow. This does not mean the other parent cannot expose the child to his religion, too.
The courts try to stay out of the day to day child rearing decisions, as constitutionally, American courts are forbidden from interfering with religious freedoms or to take steps preferring one religion over another. Courts prefer the parents determine the child’s religious upbringing and specify the agreement in the parenting plan. However, if the parents cannot reach a decision, the court will determine what is best for the child by looking at certain factors. These factors include the welfare of the child, the wishes of the child – if the child is at an age and experience to express an informed and mature opinion -, actual or possible harm to the child, and the child’s educational, medical, emotional and physical needs.
In extreme cases, a state can regulate a child’s exposure to conflicting religions when the state feels the exposure has or will clearly have an effect on the child’s health, safety or general welfare.