A father with three children recently lost his custody rights after he and his wife divorced. He is appealing the case, claiming that the decision was based on his religious beliefs.
In the judge's ruling on the case, there were two references to the father's religious beliefs, which he identifies as agnostic. The man said he originally identified as a Christian like his wife, but in recent years has changed his beliefs. The father and his lawyers are appealing the ruling, calling it a violation of his right to freedom of religion, as well as his rights as a father.
If the man's religion did play a role in the judge's decision, the ruling would indeed be unconstitutional. However, the decision to grant sole custody often involves many factors. The overall goal is to act in the best interest of the children. The father may have a hard time proving that the judge unfairly used the man's religious beliefs as grounds to deny him custody.
It is unclear at this time why the judge granted sole custody of the children to their mother, rather than giving joint custody to both parents. Because courts always seek to act in the best interest of children, father's rights advocates argue that it is vital to keep dads in the picture whenever possible.
In a statement about the case, the judge maintained that it was not the man's religion that influenced his decision. Instead, he noted that it was the inability of both parents to communicate effectively on important educational issues, such as religious education.
Determining child custody is often stressful for everyone involved. In cases where both parents are mentally and emotionally fit to have custody, the court must consider many issues including:
- Health care treatment
- The ability of each parent to provide financially for the children
- Each parent's philosophy on how best to raise and educate children
- Both parents' abilities to compromise and work together to solve disagreements
It remains to be seen whether this father will be successful in his appeal based on religious bias. What is clear is that custody disputes are messy; every aspect of the parents' lives is open to scrutiny. In such cases, a parent must be willing to defend every choice he makes, even something as personal as his religious beliefs.
Source: USA Today, "Agnostic man claims religious bias cost him custody," Associated Press, 05 December 2010