Religion and Child Custody in New Jersey

According to child custody laws in NJ, the choice of your children’s religion and religious upbringing will be left in the sole hands of the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR), and, though the Parent of Alternate Residence is allowed to expose the children to a different religion than the PPR has chosen, they may not educate the child in an alternate religion. The religion in which the two of you brought the children up prior to the breakup of the family becomes completely irrelevant.

Under New Jersey custody laws the PPR is the parent with whom the child spends in excess of one half of the overnight time in a given year or where the overnights are equal between parents, the primary residence is considered the one where the child resides while attending school. The other parent not only has no say in the religious upbringing itself, but no say in what religion is chosen.

Agreements between parents on religious upbringing under child custody laws in NJ

This is not to say that you and your spouse cannot agree to the determination regarding religious upbringing. You can, but the court will not necessarily enforce it or accept it. Most often, the court will find a reason to reject it. If the agreement you and your spouse made is oral, you have little to no chance of a court accepting it. The same is true if your terms are not detailed enough, being absent specificity as to the depth of religious training in the chosen religion regarding frequency of attending services, Hebrew classes, Bible classes or other affiliated programs. In the case of two parents with divergent religious backgrounds, there is a need to articulate what level of participation the children will have in the other parent’s religion. The last factor on which the courts generally refuse to enforce or accept these agreements regarding religious upbringing is that they are too old. Yes, too old.

Having knowledge of what the courts will almost certainly reject lets parents know some of the ways to avoid such rejection in drafting an agreement regarding religious upbringing. Always, the agreement must be in writing, must be as detailed as humanly possible by covering every imaginable religious participation and you must have a mechanism which renews the agreement regularly to keep it young and ongoing. Still, no guarantee that a court will accept it and not send it to Probation for a determination of what is in the children’s best interest with regard to religious upbringing.

In drafting a Property Settlement agreement in your divorce action, it is vital to have a provision on religion that has a fighting chance with the court. The same is true if having a prenuptial agreement drafted or, if this is something you are just considering, to put into a post-nuptial agreement.

Worst case scenario

Cases involving religious upbringing are extremely emotional for everyone involved, including the children who are put dead center of these matters by the court. Some cases involve extreme changes in religion where the PRP converts from Protestant to Orthodox Judaism, demanding the other parent then adhere to the tenants of Orthodox Judaism while with the children. While the court will generally uphold the PRP’s decision to suddenly bring the children up as Orthodox Jews, they will not compel the Parent of Alternate Residence to follow the doctrine of the religion chosen by the other parent. If you are facing a dispute concerning religion and have questions on how child custody laws in NJ impact on your situation , call Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation with a New Jersey child custody attorney. 

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