Document Type

Article

Publication Date

6-18-2015

Publication Information

Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 1518

Abstract

This piece draws upon divorce pleadings and other records to show how indications of religion (or disaffiliation) that appear in custody agreements and orders (called “parenting plans” in both states studied) affect the course of the proceedings and legal activities over the five years following divorce filing. Some of the apparent findings are normative, but most are merely descriptive and some may be correlative rather than caused by the indicated concern about religion. While parenting plans are accepted by courts only when they are in the best interests of the child (at least in theory), the child’s independent religious needs were never mentioned in the files I perused.

Divorcing couples specifying religious upbringing in their parenting plans tended to be more affluent, to come from lengthier marriages, to settle cases before litigation more often, to share custody more equally (in both states), and to have less domestic violence reported either prior to or following divorce. They were more likely to divorce alleging substance abuse or mental illness, and were more likely to seek reductions of the noncustodial parent’s time with the children following final decrees, particularly when fathers were relatively poorer. The noncustodial (payor) parent was more likely to seek relief because one of the children reached emancipation age. In general, while the pattern is complex, these parents seem like good and thoughtful parents, divorcing only when they needed to and minimizing conflict that the children would see or experience.

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