Interfaith Issues in Divorce and Custody Proceedings

Marriages between individuals who practiced different religions used to be considered taboo. As our population becomes more diverse and accepting, however, such marriages are becoming relatively common. The recent marriage of Chelsea Clinton (who is Methodist) to investor Marc Mezvinsky (who is Jewish) provides just one example. The idea that love transcends faith is becoming the prevailing philosophy. Interfaith marriages, however, do present unique issues when such unions fail.

The General Social Survey reported in 2006 that about one-fourth of U.S. households are mixed faith families. Studies also seem to indicate that interfaith couples tend to experience higher rates of divorce. It is difficult to know, however, whether differences in religion are one of the primary issues causing interfaith couples to divorce.

There can be many reasons for divorce including financial pressures, infidelity and simply growing apart. Mixed-faith couples do have the additional challenge of compromising when it comes to religious practices, traditions and holidays. When it comes to the raising of children this task can be particularly challenging, as was evident in the highly publicized Reyes divorce.

Estranged couple Joseph and Rebecca Reyes made national headlines when Joseph risked potential criminal penalties for taking his daughter to Catholic mass. Joseph is Catholic, and his former wife Rebecca is Jewish. While they were married, their daughter was under the Jewish faith. Shortly after their divorce, however, Joseph had his daughter baptized and sought to have her attend church with him. The case sparked debate about interfaith marriages, and demonstrated that interfaith divorces may be about more than dividing property and parenting time.

Some interfaith civil divorces may also require religious divorces. In the Jewish faith, a get is the writ of divorce issued by the rabbinical tribunal. In the Catholic faith, annulments are often obtained. Couples need to consider whether the tenets of their faith require additional steps beyond the court ordered divorce.

In the case of co-parenting, parents need to be sensitive to children being raised in multiple faiths, and accepting of beliefs that may be different from their own. The handling of religious instruction and observations can be elements of a comprehensive parenting plan . Putting such agreements in writing may prevent confusion and disagreements down the road.

While interfaith marriages may present additional challenges, the reality is that every marriage has the potential for being successful and lasting. If divorce occurs, the mutual respect that helped forge the mixed-faith marriage should also guide the couple towards amicably resolving their differences and being capable co-parents.