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Your Child Wants to Convert to Another Religion – Is this Legal?

There are times when a child hasn’t aged out of a custody arrangement, but begins to express definitive religious preferences and opinions about conversion. Most commonly, this happens when one parent observes a different religion than the other, it can also happen as a child approaches confirmation or bar/bat mitzvah age and the structure of the tradition demands that a conversion take place.

Many couples who come into a relationship discuss how they will approach religious differences prior to raising children, but others don’t and then after a breakup feelings can change even further. So what does the law say?

There are two kinds of custody in Rhode Island: physical and legal. Physical custody pertains to where the child lives, which parent provides what kind of care for the child, and how much time each parent will spend with the child. Legal custody, on the other hand, has to do with a parent’s right to help make critical decisions on behalf of the child, like the child’s medical, educational, cultural, and religious upbringing.

Legal and physical custody may be joint or sole. If custody is joint, the parents will share time with the child and make decisions together. If custody is sole, only one parent will make the decisions and will spend most, or sometimes all, of the time with the child.

In the case of religion, it is the parent with legal custody that has the ultimate say in the matter. It’s important to remember that the best interests of the child are paramount.  It can be disappointing, uncomfortable and unfamiliar to accept that your child has chosen a difference in religion. The faster personal differences can be set apart, the faster a new understanding of how this decision affects your child will come into focus. The topic of religion and choices is especially interesting here in Rhode Island, as Providence was established by Roger Williams, who at the time proclaimed that everyone had the freedom to worship as they chose.*

To discuss your personal custody arrangement or if you are considering divorce and would like to discuss how your partner’s difference in religion could affect your children, consult a qualified child custody lawyer familiar with Rhode Island laws.