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It’s Holiday Season:  What if the Parents are of Different Faiths?

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It’s Holiday Season:  What if the Parents are of Different Faiths?

Holidays are supposed to be special times involving family.  But if you are in the midst of separation or divorce, it can be challenging to navigate the festive season, especially if it requires shuttling children back and forth between homes in time to participate in beloved family traditions.

As a general rule, a court will safeguard a parent’s right to have a child participate in specific holidays – particularly if they are meaningful – unless the overall circumstances are likely to harm the child.  As the court in a case called Rosenberg v. Minster stated:

Religious holidays are the quintessential markers of faith. They are the gatherings, the foundations of familiar affinity – the milestones of a life lived in accordance with one’s faith. They maintain traditional practices while nurturing adaptive and evolving religious expressions. To exclude a parent from sharing religious holidays with his or her child, irrespective of the child’s age, is to tear away at the very fabric of a parent-child bond.

The bigger problem arises when separated spouses belong to different faiths.   A case from a few years ago called Seed v. Desai illustrates how this can play out in real-life.  The parents of two pre-teen daughters had had a high-conflict divorce several years prior, and neither of them had yet been awarded formal custody.

The court explained the nature of their dispute:

The parents have different religious faiths.  The mother is Catholic.  The father is Muslim.  The parents agreed to baptize the children in the Catholic faith.  They also agreed the children would attend Catholic schools.  Despite these agreements, disagreements have arisen. The father has asked the mother not to serve pork to the children.  She regards this as undue interference in her household.  She has fed them pork but says the girls refuse it now in any event.

Now, the father has the children join him when he is observing religious days by fasting.  He explains they want to share in his observance with him.  The mother describes this in an email to the father as him “withholding food and water” from the children.

In response to the father’s request for an order forcing the mother to comply with his specific dietary practice, the court examined the situation, keeping in mind the “best interests of the children” test that governs all disputes of this nature – even those involving the parents’ differing religious beliefs.

The court held that the father’s desire to engage in daytime religious fasting during Eid did not put children in danger, especially since he was planning to make it obligatory for the children participate if they did not want to.   He was free to engage in those practices while the children were in his care. Also, and while the children’s independent refusal to eat pork had made the matter essentially moot, the court added:

I find the [mother] could easily have respected the [father’s] wish that she not serve pork to the children, while still providing them a balanced diet.  I find her description of the children’s participation in his religious observance of fasting to be intentionally provocative.

In all the circumstances, the court declined to make an order one way or the other.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Seed v. Desai, 2014 

Rosenberg v. Minster, 2011 

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 RussellAlexander.com

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