In a child custody and visitation case, the Florida Court of Appeal recently ruled that a trial court cannot choose one parent's religious beliefs over the others' absent a showing of harm to the children. In Steinman v. Steinman the mother appealed a trial court's order finding her in contempt of court for unilaterally making decisions regarding her children's religion. The parties' marital settlement agreement provided for joint decision-making concerning all major decisions involving the children. The father contended that the mother's unilateral decision concerning the children's religious education constituted contempt of court.
The parties' marital settlement agreement provided for joint decision making for major decisions concerning the children. Religious upbringing was designated as a major decision. In 2014, the father filed a motion to hold the mother in contempt of court for placing the children in aftercare at Chabad. The Chabad aftercare program ended early on Friday as a result of the Sabbath. The father needed to work late on Fridays and wanted the mother to watch the children until 6:00 p.m.
In early 2015, the father filed another motion for contempt of court. The father argued that the mother was now following Orthodox Jewish practices and had enrolled their children in a religious aftercare program. The father complained about the mother making decisions on her own without his input. The father also complained that the aftercare schedule was negatively impacting upon his schedule at work. The father argued that he and the mother were Reform Jews during their marriage. The mother argued that she and the children attended Orthodox and Conservative synagogues during their marriage.
On appeal, the mother argued that since there was no evidence that Orthodox Judaism was harmful to her children, the court order violated her religious freedom. The Florida Court of Appeal agreed and ruled that a trial court cannot require one parent to raise a child in the other parent's faith. The Court ruled that a trial court cannot prevent a parent from teaching his or her children his or her religious beliefs and practices unless there is proof that the parent's beliefs and practices are harmful to the children. A court cannot choose one parent's religion over the other's without proof that their children would be harmed by these beliefs and practices. To do so would violate the First Amendment.
To speak with a child custody and visitation attorney in Wellington, Florida contact Matthew Lane & Associates, P.A. at (561) 651-7273.