Let’s be honest – articles about Tom Cruise’s lifestyle are never dull, especially those pertaining to his religious beliefs. His divorce last year from Katie Holmes was, and continues to be, consistent tabloid fodder, especially with his ongoing defamation lawsuit against one such magazine for claiming that he “abandoned” their daughter, Suri. While some of us may wonder at what point Tom became more known for his off-screen behavior than for his movies (for my money I’m taking the Oprah couch-jumping incident of 2005), the impact of religion in the now-settled divorce matter is somewhat coming to light.
News reports are spilling the details of his deposition testimony stemming from the defamation lawsuit. Apparently Tom acknowledged under oath that one of the assertions made by Katie in filing for divorce was to “protect” Suri from Scientology. While I cannot say what their settlement agreement says about Suri and her religious upbringing, I can talk about the law in New Jersey on this issue. We have blogged on this issue in the past, but “Maverick” inspired me to write about it again. In New Jersey, the law generally provides that religious education/upbringing is a matter of joint legal custody (major decisions). However, the so-called “Parent of Primary Residence” (most commonly defined as the parent with more than 50% of the overnights) has the final say in the event of a dispute. By contrast, the “Parent of Alternate Residence” is allowed to expose (not educate) the child to another religion.
Assuming that the parties do not agree in their settlement agreement as to the child’s religious upbringing, the PPR could have final say in the event of a dispute Thus, she could determine that the child should no longer be raised in the PAR’s religion. By contrast, the PAR could expose a child to his religion in what is ultimately a non-educational manner. I once represented a client who raised her son Catholic, but dad was bringing him to “classes” at his mosque. When mom objected, the court determined that the “classes” involved an educational component, rather than just game playing for the kids while the adults attended services. As a result, dad was prohibited from taking the son to such classes.
What is the takeaway here? As seen by Eliana Baer’s most recent posts, religion can play a major part in a divorce matter. It can be especially sensitive when it involves the children. Each case will ultimately rest on its own facts to determine whether the decisions are being made in the best interests of the child.