Pennsylvania Family Law and Divorce
Lisa Marie Vari & Associates, P.C.

Religion and Child Custody in Pennsylvania

By Lisa Vari on G+

Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are back in Court in New York, litigating their child custody battle for their daughter Suri. The battle this time has Katie Holmes fighting for sole physical and legal custody for their daughter. The subject of this battle is Tom Cruise's practice of Scientology, particularly his desire to enroll Suri in the Scientologist school where her siblings are already attending.

It is well known that the US Constitution protects freedom of religion, and that state and federal courts have interpreted that right to mean that parents have a right to raise their children in their religious beliefs. This only exception to this rule was laid out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, stating that the power of a parent to advocate for their religious beliefs may only be limited where it is established that the religious belief would constitute a crime, and advocating for the proscribed religious conduct would jeopardize the physical, mental, or emotional health or safety of the child, or have a potential for significant social burdens. This was illustrated in the case of a polygamist father whom, the Court determined, was allowed to "discuss" polygamy with his children.

In the case of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, the religious beliefs at question, although perceived as strange by some, do not rise to the level of a criminal activity, or conduct that would be proscribed by the laws of any state. In Pennsylvania, therefore, the Court would be unwilling to proscribe the ability of Tom Cruise to enroll Suri in the school, or by contrast, to prohibit Tom from advocating for Scientology during his custody time.

That is not to say, however, that the Court would be unable to take into account the religious beliefs of the parent. The legal standard in Pennsylvania is the best interest of the child, and one of the factors that can be taken into account is a child's physical and emotional needs. The Court has determined that religion, if not determinative, is important to custody determination. If a Court determined that the religious beliefs of one parent would have a more negative effect on the child's well-being than the beliefs of the other parent, then they could take that into account in awarding custody. Therefore, if after a close consideration of the facts, the Court would determine that Scientology school would not work as well for Suri as the school to which Katie would send her in New York, then the Court could weigh that as a factor.

Our experienced Pittsburgh child custody attorneys have a lot of experience in resolving child custody cases. Contact our team of attorneys today!

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