Many Florida parents who are of different faiths go on to get a divorce. A contentious question often arises regarding in which religion the child will be raised by the custodial parent. If the parents are unable to agree, the court will be left in a position in which it must balance the fundamental First Amendment rights of the parent to choose their own religion versus the best interests of the child.
Florida, like many other states, utilizes the actual or substantial harm standard. This means the court will only act to restrict a parent’s right to exercise their fundamental religious rights in raising their child if the other parent can prove that doing so poses an actual or substantial harm to the child.
Rulings in other states, while instructive, do not necessarily translate into the same rulings in Florida. In other states that apply the actual and substantial harm standard, courts have held that raising a child in two different religions at the same time is not actual harm. Other states have ruled that a parent asserting actual harm must prove that religious customs practiced by the other parent are substantially harmful to the child’s safety or well-being. Finally, some states have found that religious threats of verbal or physical abuse are enough to meet the test.
Religious upbringing can be a contentious part of a child custody case. Since the burden of proof is fairly high in Florida, people who are concerned about their child being raised in the other parent’s religion may want to seek the help of a family law attorney. Legal counsel can review the facts and circumstances and advise clients whether it is likely they will be successful in asserting their position on the child’s religious upbringing.