Parental disputes: when divorcing parents hold different beliefs, where does that leave the children08 Sep 2015
Raising children together within the realms of a marriage or relationship can be tough to say the least. Each parent’s own personal upbringing will have formed their own set of beliefs and enabled them to decide how they wish to raise their family. Coming together with another person, who is likely to hold many different beliefs, can be taxing. As the couple’s children grow up, there will be discussions about many things, including the best method of discipline, views on education, and even how much financial support to give. However, by effectively communicating, parents are often able to reach a compromise.
Upon divorce, spouses with children are encouraged to continue to co-parent. This means that, despite having separated, they should continue to discuss anything going on in their children’s lives and make parental decisions together. For some, this task may be a simple one – after all, having been married, the parties are likely to have an understanding of how they initially agreed to raise their children and therefore this can continue harmoniously without their personal disagreements getting in the way. For others, however, things may not be so simple.
There are various reasons why co-parenting may be difficult after divorce. Often, parents find it hard to set aside the hurt and anger they feel towards each other in order to focus on their children. Suggestions can be seen as personal attacks and questions can be perceived as a lack of trust in the other’s parental abilities. Alternatively, spouses may be divorcing due to lifestyle differences, having realised they are not compatible. When children are involved in the latter situation, it can create a serious challenge to co-parenting, as spouses may feel very differently about how they wish to raise their children.
Parental disputes involving religion – case examples
An example of such a dispute can be found in the case of Re J (child’s religious upbringing and circumcision) . The non-practicing Christian mother and the non-practising Muslim father in this case had divorced when their child was two and a half, after which the child was brought up by his mother in a secular household and his only contact with Islam was through his father.
When the child was five, the father applied for a specific issue order for the child to be circumcised, claiming that the mother had agreed to the procedure when she had been pregnant. The court held that the child should not have the circumcision. Their decision was based on the fact that his upbringing was secular, the circumcision was an irreversible surgery with no medical basis, the mother opposed it and it was not in the child’s best interests. The father appealed, but this was dismissed.
Another example of a post-divorce parental dispute can be seen in Re G . Here, the ex-spouses were both Jewish, having been part of an ultra-orthodox community when they were married. Along with an application for a residence order, the mother made an application for a specific issue order, seeking permission to enrol the children in a new, less religious co-educational school. The father opposed the application as he wanted them to remain in the single sex ultra-orthodox school they had been attending until the matter came before the court. The court had to decide whether the mother’s argument that the children would receive a better education in the latter school should take precedence over the father’s desire to prioritise the religious environment that was available in their current school.
Lord Justice Munby explained the court’s decision to rule in favour of the mother, stating: “Our objective must be to maximise the child’s opportunities in every sphere of life as they enter adulthood.”
Whilst the court gave serious consideration to the children’s religious needs, they felt that a balance between education and religious philosophy could be achieved in the less religious environment, which would equip them to decide what type of life they wanted to lead when they were older. The religious school was viewed as limiting, as it was more likely to restrict their educational options in the future.
I’m involved in a dispute with my ex-spouse – what should I do next?
The above cases are examples of rather significant disagreements between ex-spouses. Whilst such large disputes may not arise in every co-parenting scenario post-divorce, there will almost always be times when small disagreements arise.
It is extremely helpful to communicate with your ex-spouse when your opinions conflict. You should try not to let any animosity that exists between you affect these conversations; instead, you should remember that your children are the most important thing to you both and everything else should be left at the side-line. When conversations are unsuccessful, or when issues are significant, it may be useful to introduce a mutual friend to mediate; or, when this is not possible, to hire a professional mediator or lawyer, who will try and guide you to reach a compromise.
Unfortunately, sometimes court will seem like the only way to resolve parental disputes, and a prohibited steps order or specific issue order application must be sought to make or to prevent the other parent from doing something. The court will always prioritise the welfare of the child and their best interests.
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