Religious dispute cases are few and far between.Courtsare understandably reluctant to delve into matters of religion. After all, the First Amendment generally gives parents the freedom to expose their children to whatever religious beliefs they choose. It also prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another. Nonetheless,courtshave an obligation to act when children are being harmed by parental conflict.

Consider the case of Lewis v. Parmerter in Sparta, Tennessee. When the parentsdivorced, the agreed parenting plan designated Mother as the primary residential parent and gave both parents joint decision-making authority regarding the children’s religious upbringing. Since thedivorce, the parties have filed numerous petitions for contempt, orders of protection, and motions to modify the parenting plan arising out of, among other disagreements, the control of their children and their religious beliefs. Much of this conflict centers around Father’s refusal or interference with his children participating in extracurricular activities, such as Scouts, football, and other sports which he claims violates his religious beliefs.

Tennessee lawprovides that where parents are unable to agree on matters of great importance regarding the welfare of the children, primary decision-making authority should be placed in one parent or the other. In the original parenting plan, the parties had joint decision-making authority. After reviewing the record, theappeals courtnoted the extent of disagreement between the parties concerning the spiritual upbringing of the children, the effect of the parties’ conflict on the emotional health of the kids, and the anxiety the children experienced when they were required to attend the father’s church. Thecourtconcluded that these observations and recommendations from the children’s therapist provided a sufficient evidentiary basis to grant to the mother sole decision-making authority with respect to the children’s religious upbringing.

The children’s therapist stated that one child “has become paranoid that ‘Jehovah’ is watching everything that he does and that he will be punished when his father takes him back to ‘Jehovah’s House.'” The children complained to the therapist about all the time they spent at Father’s church. The therapist said the children have increased anxiety, a distrust of Father, the feeling they are being forced to believe something they do not, and that he is not considerate of their own thoughts and beliefs.

Thecourtgranted Mother soledecision-making authority regarding the children’s religious upbringing. If you are concerned about a parenting decision that has affected the well-being of your child,our officecan advise you of your options.

If You Have Questions Please Feel Free To Contact Our Office.
Ryan K McFarland • attorneymcfarland@gmail.com1 (931) 919-4376

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