Religion and Child Custody

While participation in organized religion is becoming less common in the United States, it remains important for many Americans. This Article hopes to demonstrate the effects of religion on a particular group of vulnerable Americans: married couples with children going through the divorce process. The Article draws upon divorce pleadings and other records to show how indicators of religious affiliation (or disaffiliation) in custody agreements and orders affect the course of the legal proceedings in the five years following the divorce filing. The study draws upon data taken from Arizona and Indiana, as these two states have comparable child support guidelines, have substantial experience in making shared parenting awards, and allow remote access to electronic records.

The study explores the correlation between religion and the following divorce-related issues: domestic violence, “fault” divorce, shared parenting, stability of shared-parenting decrees, length of marriage, and age of children. It concludes that divorcing couples specifying religious upbringing in their parenting plans tends to be more affluent, have fewer reports of domestic violence, settle cases before litigation more often, share custody more equally, and come from lengthier marriages. These couples were also more likely to divorce alleging substance abuse and were more likely to seek reductions of the noncustodial parent’s time with the children. While the pattern is complex, these parents are thoughtful, divorcing only when needed and minimizing the conflict that their children experience.

The full text of this Symposium is available to download as a PDF.