How Does a Parent’s Religious Beliefs Affect Custody and Access?

When parents have divorced, they frequently differ on what constitutes the “best interests” of a child – which is the governing consideration in determining where and with whom the child lives, where he or she attends school, and other similar decisions.

But what about religion?  And what if the parents don’t agree?

In a case called Young v. Young, the Supreme Court of Canada tackled precisely this issue.  There, the child lived with the mother, but the father – who had recently become a Jehovah’s Witness – had regular access to them.    The mother objected to the father’s intensive religious-based questioning and instruction of the children while they were with him, and to his taking them door-to-door on his proselytizing campaigns.  She eventually obtained a lower court order forcing the father to limit his religious-based discussions and activities while they were with him.   

The Court of Appeal set that decision aside, ruling that it was in the children’s best interests to get to know their father fully, which included his strong religious beliefs. 

When the matter was further appealed, the Supreme Court of Canada set out the principles that were to govern in these scenarios.   They include the following:

  • Decisions by a court regarding custody and access are not based on the faith of the child’s parents.  
  • Rather, religion – which is recognized as having potential value to a child’s upbringing – is one of the relevant factors that must be considered as part of the overall evaluation of what is in the child’s best interests.
  • If there is conflict over religion between the parents, the court will not engage in a “war of religion”; rather, it will consider the impact on the child of each parent’s individual beliefs are practices.

If you are in the process of separating and divorcing and the religious instruction of your children has become an issue, we can help.  Shulman Law Firm is a Toronto-area firm of experienced Family Lawyers who can provide practical advice and effective representation relating to the steps and processes involved in separating and getting divorced in Ontario.   Contact us to set up a free consultation. 

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