One of the hardest lessons I learned in my early days of practicing family law is that a case is never really over when we think it’s over.  I remember walking out of my first uncontested hearing so proud that I helped finalize a client’s divorce, emotional for their loss (yes, it happened to be

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

Religion is always a delicate subject, whether being discussed between family or friends, in politics or at the dinner table, and the like.  This especially holds true in the area of family law.  Decisions regarding a child’s religious upbringing including, but not limited to, the choice of religion, exposing the child to a different religion, converting to a different religion, or raising a child with any religious background at all, can prove to be hotly contested matters involving the children where courts require that conflict to the child be minimized.

Generally, the law in New Jersey provides that the designated Parent of Primary Residence – defined as the parent who provides a residence for the child more than 50% of the overnights on an annual basis (or, if sharing is equal, providing the residence for the child while the child is attending school) has the right to determine the child’s religious upbringing and education.  The other parent, known as the Parent of Alternate Residence, may expose the child to, but may not educate the child in, a different religion.

Education versus exposure is a nuance with a difference, where a family part judge may be charged with having to determine into which category a particular religious-based activity falls.  For instance, I had a case a few years ago where Mom was the Parent of Primary Residence and was raising and educating the child in the Catholic religion.  Dad, who was not concerned with religion during the marriage, started taking the child to Muslim-based services after the divorce.  Mom argued that the sevices constituted a form of religious education, while Dad countered that the child would largely stay in a separate playroom during services.  Ultimately, the court concluded that Dad was trying to educate the child in the Muslim religion, and he was precluded from further doing so.

That brings me to the Appellate Division’s recently unpublished (not precedential) decision in Phillips v. Emerson, which, at first glance, seems to run contrary to the law I describe above.  A closer examination, however, reveals that the Appellate Division was more seemingly concerned with the trial court’s parens patriae duty to protect the child, and how the trial court reached its decision without taking testimony or interviewing the child at issue, than with the trial court’s actual substantive decision.


Continue Reading

In Feldman v. Feldman, an interesting new unreported (not precedential) opinion from the Appellate Division, the Court addressed the issue of a child’s religious education, and whether the parties had already settled the extent of such education in their previously entered custody and parenting time agreement.  It is only coincidental that the parties here share the last name Feldman, since it was an earlier reported Appellate Division decision of the same name holding that the Parent of Primary Residence – defined as providing a residence for a child for more than 50% of overnights annually (or, if sharing is equal, providing the residence for the child while the child is attending school) has the right to determine the child’s religious upbringing and education. 

Here, the parties were divorced in 2005, coming to terms on a custody and parenting time agreement that provided Mom with the ability to make "all decisions regarding the child," (except when the child was in his care) and that she would "give advance notice" to Dad as to major decisions so as to give him enough time to voice any objection or file a motion in court.  The parties also acknowledged in a separate provision that the child attended Jewish day school and that she would continue to do so.  To that end, the parties also agreed to cooperate with the school in providing all financial information so as not to impact enrollment.  Separately, the trial court appointed a parenting coordinator to assist the parties with issues regarding the child. 


Continue Reading

Once again from the Windy City, another article from Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune reports on a child’s religious upbringing post-divorce in an interfaith context, this time discussing a decision from a Cook County judge who decided that a father could take his daughter to church services to "expose" her to his religion during his parenting time.  From

Religion in both marriage and divorce is often a very delicate issue that can strain family relations and put family members at odds with each other.  The strain can be even greater when the parents are each of a different religion.   An interesting article from today’s Chicago Tribune by Manya A. Brachear called Religion Used as Weapon in Divorce focuses on the issue of a child’s religious upbringing post-divorce in light of increased interfaith marriages.  Notable figures cited in the article include a percentage increase of interfaith marriages in the Jewish community from 17% to 47% from 1970 to 2000, and that interfaith households are 3 times more likely to end in divorce as those where both parents share the same faith. 

In New Jersey, the primary caretaker of the child (the Parent of Primary Residence – defined as providing a residence for a child for more than 50% of overnights annually or, if sharing is equal, providing the residence for the child while the child is attending school) has the right to determine the child’s religious upbringing and education.  The rationale is to allow the primary caretaker to decide the issue should there be a disagreement because that parent might know the child better than the other based on greater day-to-day exposure with the child.  By contrast, the other parent (the Parent of Alternate Residence) may only choose to expose, but not educate the child in another religion.  What does expose mean as compared to educate?  Exposure generally includes taking a child to religious services during the non-primary caretaker’s parenting time, but not enrolling him or her in religious training or classes. 


Continue Reading