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Does divorce impact a child's religion?

Religion is important to you. It always has been. When you and your spouse got married, you knew religion was not as important to your spouse, but you figured things would work themselves out over time.

Now that you are getting divorced, though, you are starting to wonder about the potential impact on the kids. How could this split impact their religion? You always assumed the children would follow your example, but could that change?

Working with your ex

The first thing you should do is have a conversation with your spouse, who will soon be your ex, to find out how he or she plans to approach religion. Do you want to include religious decisions in your parenting plan? What do you think works in the best interests of the children? Are there any clear areas of conflict?

In many cases, you and your ex can work together to find a solution. Your ex may not follow your religion, for instance, but they will agree not to try to dissuade the children from following your lead.

If you have any strong preferences, it is wise to get them in writing.

New York laws

When you and your ex disagree, you may need to allow the court to rule. For instance, you may want to raise the children in your religion, while your ex may join a new religious practice and decide to raise the children that way. You fear that this will ruin the religious upbringing you planned for them.

However, the laws in New York typically make it so that one parent can only order that the other parent cannot raise the children in a conflicting religion if doing so causes harm to the children. If the central conflict is simply that you do not agree with that teaching, your ex may have a right to teach them anyway. To take that away could violate his or her First Amendment rights, which a court usually only does to protect a child who is in danger.

A decline in religion

It is also worth noting that children whose parents get divorced tend to move away from religion more often as they grow up, compared to those whose parents stay together. Could differing opinions on religion play into this?

For instance, one study found that a little over 50 percent of adult children whose parents split up said that they were fairly or very religious, whereas about 66 percent of those whose parents stayed married made the same claim.

This doesn't mean you cannot teach your children to follow your religion, but you need to know what challenges you face and what legal rights you have.

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