Parents need to know what their rights and responsibilities are under Australian law when it comes to child custody and religion.
The Family Law Act of 1975 controls child custody issues, including religious decisions.
When parents separate or divorce, their opinions and ideals regarding religion and how it should be practised in their children’s lives may diverge.
This might create tension when making decisions about child custody and religion.
Which Parent’s Religion Does a Child Take?
In Australia, the Family Law Courts generally favor shared parental responsibility after a divorce.
This means both parents have an equal say in making significant decisions for the child, including religious upbringing.
If parents can’t agree on the child’s religion, they are usually required to seek mediation.
In cases where one parent has sole custody, that parent typically has the right to decide the child’s religion.
However, in shared custody situations, the court usually allows each parent to expose the child to their own religion when the child is with them.
Courts are cautious not to decide which religion is “correct” and aim to act in the child’s best interests.
Parents are advised to respect each other’s beliefs, especially when discussing religion with the child.
Courts do not appreciate one parent negatively influencing the child against the other parent’s religion.
Under Australian law, the court will consider various variables while determining child custody, including the child’s connection with each parent, wants and preferences, and the child’s care, welfare, and development.
In terms of child custody and religion, the court will look at both how the child is being raised and any changes that have been asked for.
- The court will also consider the views and values of both parents, as well as the child’s beliefs and desires (if the child is at the right age and maturity to express these).
- The court will also evaluate if a child’s religious upbringing is likely to cause harm or negatively affect their health and safety.
For example, if one parent’s strong religious beliefs can hurt the child physically or emotionally, the court can step in to protect the child’s overall well-being.
At What Age Can a Child Choose Their Religion?
The child custody law in Australia doesn’t specify a particular age at which a child can choose their religion. The court considers various factors like the child’s maturity, age, and understanding of the situation when making decisions about religious upbringing.
If the child is mature enough, their views may be considered, but it’s not a guarantee that the child can independently choose their religion.
What the Parents Can Do
When it comes to religion and their children’s development, parents must communicate openly and truthfully about their ideas and values.
- If parents cannot agree on religious questions, they may need to seek the services of a mediator or file an application with the court for a ruling. Parents need to remember that the court’s decision about how to raise their children’s religion is final and binding and that they are both legally required to follow the order. If a parent violates a court order over religious matters, they may face penalties or possibly jail time.
- In addition to court requirements, parents may need to address various legal and practical concerns regarding the religious upbringing of their children. For instance, if a child attends a religious school, it may be necessary for both parents to agree on the school and how it matches their religious values.
- Parents may also need to examine how their religious views, such as dietary restrictions or dress standards, may affect their children’s health and well-being.
- In rare instances, parents may be required to seek medical advice or make other concessions to meet their children’s religious demands safely and healthily.
Assisting Our Clients
Our firm ran a case where one parent had a strong religious belief that the child should not be vaccinated nor given any blood transfusions.
The courts determined that this was not in the best interests of the child, and ordered that the child be vaccinated and that sole parental responsibility be awarded to our client.
The case of Howell & Howell from 2012 involved a nine-year-old child and a religion known as “Religion T.”
The parents had both become followers of the religion before they even met back in 1997. Fast forward to 2003, they tied the knot and had a child. They divorced in late 2011.
The wife said Religion T was a cult and completely removed herself from the religion.
However, the husband denied that the religion was a cult and wanted their child to choose whether or not to be involved with it.
The judge ordered that the parents share equal parental responsibility, but the child would primarily live with her mother.
The mother was also granted sole parental responsibility for the child’s health due to the husband’s distrust of Western medicine and immunisation, which was incorporated into the teachings of Religion T.
Child custody and religion are complicated matters requiring careful study and a focus on the child’s best interests.
Parents should talk openly and honestly about their beliefs and values, and if they need to, they should get legal advice and help of child custody lawyers to make sure that the way they raise their children’s religion is in line with the law and the best interests of the child.
Director of Melbourne Family Lawyers, Hayder manages the practice and oversees the running of all of the files in the practice. Hayder has an astute eye for case strategy and running particularly complex matters in the family law system.