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Religious Conversion in Marriage & Divorce

Religion can often be a large factor in why spouses do not see eye to eye. One of the top 3 reasons, besides infidelity and financial matters, for divorce is conflict pertaining to religion. Many couples who are of different faiths typically marry under the notion they will raise any children from the marriage under one or sometimes both religions. One of the many solutions couples have found to this dilemma is to draft up a legal document stating the stipulations under which their family will be governed, as far as religion is concerned.

However, this written agreement would not be enforceable during marriage and it may not be enforceable in the event of a divorce either, depending on the language, the judge, and the jurisdiction. If you’re married and your spouse does not want to follow the terms of your initial agreement about the children’s upbringing, in many instances, the battle will end in a stalemate. There is no civil legal form to enforce this marital problem, so what do you do?

Loopholes & Lawsuits
So, even with a contractual agreement, signed by both parties, if a conflict does arise with regards to the religious upbringing of children, the matter has no weight unless a divorce is pending. It almost begs the question, “What is the point of the agreement, and how do couples solve the issue without dissolving the marriage?” The civil courts will not rule on a premarital contract regarding religion without a termination of marriage proceeding, i.e. divorce or separation. So, if your spouse changes his or her mind after the birth of the child, then you have a problem on your hands.

Divorcing a Religion

Some courts in New York have upheld these “agreements” to raise children with a specific religion, but again, the courts only ruled on the issue in a termination of marriage proceeding. Sometimes a judge wants to acknowledge the agreement and enforce it or a part of it, no matter who has primary custody.  In other situations, the courts first look at custody and then consider whether the agreement is viable

In many states, a civil premarital agreement does not address any custody, parenting, and support issues for future children, and this obviously includes religious rearing. Religion is generally determined by the parent of primary residence when couples are divorced or separated. Divorce often leads to bitter custody disputes, but when religion and the indoctrination of the child are dependent on the sole custodian, custody battles are intensified.

Not many are aware of the rules that coincide with religion and raising children within a marriage. However, even with said documentation, the law does not fully regulate religion and marriage. These papers will show proof of said agreement, but the problem is finding a judge willing to enforce the agreement in an intact marriage.

If your religion is a large part of your life, it is not a great idea to get involved with someone of another faith, unless they are willing to convert. When people have children, they often revert to and have a renewed sense of pride in the religion they grew up with. They often want to give their children the guidelines, traditions, and values that they grew up with themselves. Setting ground rules and sticking to them is a gamble; but discussing the place of religion in your family at length and theorizing all possible scenarios is good planning.

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