All it takes is a peek at the newspaper headlines to be reminded that religion is a controversial and divisive element in the world. Although it’s far less common for religion to be a significant issue between spouses, it does happen.
The decision from a few months ago called Polak v. Polak was precisely such a case. The couple had been had been married in a Roman Catholic church six years prior to separation, and had two sons together. The court began its judgment this way:
In family law, as elsewhere, religion can be a divisive issue; fundamental religious differences between parties can result in marriage breakdown and later spawn hard fought and bitter litigation. This case is no different. In her own search for spiritual contentment, the Applicant … converted to Judaism in 2010. Although she describes herself as a “modern” orthodox Jew, it is obvious that her religion is very important source of comfort to her and her practice of Judaism can only be described as strict.
Although after separation the parents were never good at communicating effectively about any of the day-to-day issues that related to the children’s care and upbringing, religion was a particular hotbed of contention for them. This was mainly because after her religious conversion the mother took steps to have the children convert to Judaism as well, including giving them Hebrew names, having her sons circumcised, and having them registered in a private Jewish school – all without the father’s consent.
The court looked at this conduct against the background of resolving the broader issues of custody, access, and child and spousal support, and examined the impact of the mother’s actions and religious choices on the children’s well-being.
The Court summed it up this way:
And what of the issue of religion in this matter? I do believe that this is a situation where religion has taken on a toxic presence detrimental to the best interests of the children.
Using the mother’s decision to circumcise the boys as an example, the court pointed out that it been made unilaterally, without consulting the father, and at a time when the parties had been expressly ordered to make decisions jointly and to give the children equal exposure to both the Jewish and Roman Catholic religions. The ceremony itself took place at a time when the mother did not even have legal custody of the boys.
This incident, together with others in which she disregarded the father’s wishes in non-religious matters, showed that the mother could not empathize with the fact that the children needed to have both parents involved in their lives.
The court therefore made an order to place the children in the father’s custody, while ensuring that they would spend the majority of the weekends with the mother so that they could attend synagogue with her on Saturdays.
They would also be in her care on Jewish holidays, but Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving would be spent with the father, or else shared. The court also ordered that neither parent was to denigrate the other’s religion in front of the children.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Polak v. Polak (2013), 2013 ONSC 4670 http://canlii.ca/t/fznxj
At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders. For more information, visit us at www.RussellAlexander.com.