While a parent’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) usually don’t affect custody decisions, the family court has to consider religion if a parent’s spiritual practices or their religious community is abusive to the child. When it comes to custody decisions, defining religious abuse can sometimes create a very tricky legal situation, particularly if one parent is a member of an unpopular religious group. In those instances, the court must balance its primary consideration of making a decision in the child’s best interest with the parent’s First Amendment right to religious freedom. If you have concerns about your child’s welfare because of your ex’s zealous religious practices, here’s are some tips to help you decide what to do next.
Tip #1 Pay Attention
If you are worried about your child’s welfare because of your ex’s religious practices, the first step is to pay close attention to your child when they are with you. Ask your child questions about their welfare. Be on the lookout for bruises or behavior changes that might indicate that your child is in danger. Enlist your child’s family members, school officials, coaches, and after-school program coordinators to be on the lookout for any signs of abuse as well. Paying close attention will let you know whether it’s time to intervene on your child’s behalf or to continue to agree to disagree when it comes to your ex and religion.
Tip #2 Keep Good Records
If you notice any signs of potential abuse, you must keep detailed records of the events and circumstances that lead you to believe your child is in danger. These records include police reports, pictures, videos, audio recordings, and other documents proving that your child is in danger because of your ex’s religion. These documents will be essential in presenting your case in future custody hearings.
Tip #3 File For Full Custody and Request a Temporary Restraining Order
If your ex’s religious practices and their harm to your child is an overwhelming concern, consider going to court to file for full custody of your child and to secure a temporary restraining order with a request for extraordinary relief (“TRO”).
The family court uses TROs to prohibit a parent from taking specific actions that could endanger a child during a custody fight. When a petitioner files for a TRO with a Request for Extraordinary Relief, they ask the court to take immediate action without notice to the other party because they believe that threat of irreparable harm to the child is imminent.
To get a TRO, Texas courts require the petitioner to show that the child is in immediate danger due to physical, sexual, or substance abuse. So if your ex’s religious practices are only affecting your child’s emotional well-being, you may not qualify for the TRO. However, you may still want to move forward with your petition for full custody under those circumstances.
Tip #4 Consider Keeping Your Child With You
Although it is illegal for you to interfere with a valid custody order, Texas law allows for an affirmative defense to this charge if you were entitled to possession of your child at the time and your decision to keep your child is so that they can flee family violence or the threat of family violence. Like the standard for a TRO, your defense is only valid if you are protecting your child from physical violence. Religious emotional abuse likely will not qualify. However, keeping your child with you is undoubtedly your most viable option if you know that your child will face violence or abuse in your ex’s care.
Tip #5 Get Help From An Attorney
Fighting back against a zealously religious ex is not an easy thing to do, particularly because of the courts competing interests in protecting religious freedom and the child’s best interest. So if you are facing this situation, you want to make sure that you hire credible and experienced legal counsel as soon as possible to help you with your case.
If you need assistance navigating your ex’s religious practice and the safest custody decision for your child, Angela F. Brown and Associates is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation with our law office.
This is the tenth article in our Unthinkable Series. We’ll publish articles about some of the unique custody situations we’ve encountered in our practice with tips to help you overcome similar challenges during the series. Then we’ll host a live Q&A session where you can get your custody questions answered in real-time later in the week. If you have questions about this series or would like to submit a question for our live Q&A, please contact our office here.