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Children religious upbringing: who decides?

August 2, 2012 Speech Box

The press has been filled with pictures of little Suri Cruise, first with her mum, Katie Holmes, and then with her dad, Tom Cruise and articles claiming that the reason why Katie wanted a divorce was because she doesn’t want Suri to continue to adopt the Scientology faith. Now whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but it did get me thinking again about how difficult it is when parents (together or separated) cannot agree on the religious upbringing of their children. Who decides?

A judge requested to rule in a case where there is a dispute between the parents who both have Parental Responsibility for a child will apply the Welfare Checklist set out in the Children’s Act to the facts of each case. The paramount consideration of the court is the welfare of the child concerned. The court will usually ask a social worker to provide a recommendation which will in many cases be persuasive.

In all cases I would advise the parents to try absolutely every reasonable way of resolving this without resorting to our family courts, which will be expensive, emotional, take a long time and the parents are not in control of the outcome.

If the parents find it difficult to talk about it together without discussions becoming heated then they should consider family mediation with a solicitor mediator who will facilitate discussions between the parents and help them to reach a solution that is the best for the child and acceptable to them both. The mediator can also suggest family counsellors or other profession services that may be able to improve communication for the parents, which will certainly be a positive benefit for the child as he or she grows up.

It is often said that it is not the separation that hurts the child, but rather the way in which the separation is handled that is the key, so if this is correct, then we should try our very best, as solicitors and parents, to ensure that arrangements are made in a way that affords everyone respect and consideration.

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