The New York Times reports that “child-custody disputes in which religion is the flash point are increasing” over the past 30 years.
In Oregon, a dispute between James Boldt and his former wife, Lia, was recently decided by the State Supreme Court. Mr. Boldt, the custodial parent, converted to Judaism after the divorce and sought to have their son, now 12, convert, and be circumcised.
Tensions can emerge when one parent takes a turn toward fundamentalism. In 2006, the United States Supreme Court let stand a decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that permitted Stanley Shepp to tell his 14-year-old daughter about polygamy.
And there’s a heartbreaking story about a parent having to fight Amish upbringing:
Aaron Petty of Minneapolis and Gineen Gove of Black River Falls, Wis., had their daughter, Basyl, 17 years ago. The couple split up when Basyl was 4. Soon afterward, Ms. Gove married, and she and her husband converted to Old Order Amish.
As Mr. Petty saw his daughter over the years, he became concerned, he said, when Basyl was about 11 and he learned that the Goves would not let her go to school past eighth grade, a common decision among the Amish.
Mr. Petty petitioned for primary custody so that Basyl might continue her education. “This case wasn’t about religion for me,” he said. “It was about her education.”
He won the case when Basyl was 14, but she disappeared. Mr. Petty said he suspected Basyl was living within the Amish community. The Goves declined to talk about the case.
“I wanted to offer my daughter options for her future, in case she grew up and didn’t remain Amish,” Mr. Petty said in a phone interview. “At 12, 13, 14, making lasting drastic decisions based on faith isn’t an appropriate time.”
Mr. Petty’s voice caught as he continued. “Was that case worth fighting? In hindsight, no. I haven’t seen my daughter in two-and-a-half years.”
It’s hard to find a solution to these problems. The kids are usually (and unfortunately) too young to make a responsible decision about their own upbringing.
Jason at The Wild Hunt says this:
Eventually, one of two roads will have to be taken. Completely leave out matters of faith from custody battles, or directly involve faith communities and experts on religion in the custody process. Neither path will please everyone, but our current system seems far too whimsical and uninformed to make wise decisions involving children and religions outside the mainstream.
The NYT article didn’t mention anything about atheist parent/religious parent custody cases, but I would assume that battle will also be playing out more in the future.
(Thanks to Susan and Brett for the link!)