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What's God got to do with child custody?

At one point, child custody decisions in Georgia focused on which parent would get the children for the holidays, but there was little about in which religion the child was to be raised. Now, however, there are an increasing number of divorced couples whose child custody agreements are spelling out the details of their children's religious instruction and practices. While some divorcing parents choose to be intentionally vague about religion in their divorce agreements, many may find themselves petitioning the court for a child custody modification as they rediscover their faith.

Recently, however, many couples are attempting to nail down in writing the specific religion, doctrines, and denomination in which the children will be raised and instructed. Some custody agreements become so detailed that they spell out which parent will pay for a confirmation ceremony or bar mitzvah, not just what the children's religions will be.

Complex issues may arise if the parents were from different religious traditions. Sometimes the agreement will include a prohibition on parents openly criticizing the other parent's religious faith in front of the children. Some agreements prevent the parents from forcing the children to choose between the two religions and sometimes they encourage the children to simply experience both faiths.

Some family law practitioners even argue that these detailed agreements may avoid acrimonious fights and make children's experiences more pleasant, particularly over the holidays. Parents may agree, for instance, to put up a Christmas tree in their home even if they are Jewish, to continue a family tradition the children learned before the Judeo-Christian couple broke up.

Even if your custody agreement explicitly spells out the way in which your children should experience religion, there are always options to change a prior agreement. If you no longer wish your child to be raised in a particular religion or if you wish to increase your child's religious participation, an experienced family law attorney can help you modify an existing child custody agreement to better suit your needs.

Source: The Washington Post, "Divorce's details: Custody agreements are getting more complex," Michelle Boorstein, Dec. 26, 2011

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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