Religious Freedom after Divorce

Religious Freedom

In Illinois, there is a law found in Section 608 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act which provides that, unless otherwise agreed by the parties, the custodial parent shall determine the child’s upbringing on all matters including religious training. That is why I recently read with interest what I refer to as the “Religious Freedom case,” handed down by the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court in December 2003. In a recent trial, Wendy and David were divorced earlier in the year and had one child named Nicole who was 7 years old at the time of the divorce. Both Wendy and David were Christian; however, they attended different churches, and Wendy did not approve of the church David attended with their daughter, Nicole. Wendy subsequently filed a motion in court asking that, during David’s visits on alternating weekends that David be ordered to refrain from taking Nicole to the church of David’s choice. David’s response was that Nicole (his daughter) was not in any way injured by attending church with him, nothing in the divorce judgment prohibited him from taking Nicole to church, and most importantly, the court should not interfere with his rights to visit with his daughter and participate in activities he chose during his parenting time. Wendy, however, argued that as custodial parent to Nicole, she should be permitted to decide the appropriate religious training and upbringing for Nicole.

Wendy also had an ‘ace in the hole.’ There was a 1987 case called Tisckos vs. Tisckos in which the Illinois Appellate Court upheld a trial court decision ordering the father to either return his daughter to her mother on Sunday mornings to attend Roman Catholic Church or take his daughter to a Roman Catholic Church himself. The father in the Tisckos case used to attend a Southern Baptist Church. The father in Tisckos argued that requiring him to take his daughter to a Roman Catholic Church, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits state and Federal action favoring one religion over another. In 1987, the Illinois Appellate Court disagreed with the father, citing the Illinois law that says a custodial parent is permitted to determine the child’s upbringing, which included religious training.

Now here we are, sixteen years later, and the same Illinois Appellate Court was confronted with similar facts. This time, the Appellate Court decided otherwise. In the December 2003 case, David was allowed to take his daughter, Nicole, to the church of his choice. The Illinois Appellate Court held that no evidence was presented showing that the father’s religious practices would be harmful to the minor child, the father had a right to free and unrestricted parenting time with his daughter, and it was in the best interests and general welfare of the minor child to not interrupt the father’s visits on his alternating weekends with his daughter.

What was the difference between these two cases? Not much. Since many of us in Northern Illinois are married to individuals of a different faith, this issue is sure to arise more often in the future. In summary, be sure to ask your attorney to address the issue of “religious freedom” prior to completing your divorce.

Contact the Law Offices of Michael P. Doman, Ltd. for your divorce attorney needs.

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