While Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are keeping the reasons behind their divorce secret, it is no secret that their six year old daughter Suri will likely face some unique challenges coping with the high-profile split. Despite being the daughter of the world famous TomKat, Suri has a lot in common with many children of more modest origins whose parents face separation-her parents follow different religions.
When interfaith couples separate, the court will usually allow their children to participate in both religions. Assuming the children’s well-being is not detrimentally affected, when either parent spends time with their children, that parent may freely exercise religious rights even if both parents have previously agreed to raise the children in a certain religion.
In cases of joint legal custody, both parents have to work together and consult each other on important decisions affecting their children’s education, health, or well-being. Ideally, the parents can agree on whether to send their children to a Catholic school or Lutheran school, for example, or they could compromise on a nondenominational school.
In Missouri, courts cannot examine a parent’s religious belief as a factor when awarding custody. A judge may not even ask questions about a parent’s religious belief unless the court has a very good reason and the court is convinced that the child’s best interests are in jeopardy. Despite the fact many parents believe it is confusing to, for example, raise a child as a Jew and still allow the child to attend Catholic services on Sunday with a parent, the courts will not interfere with this practice.
Tom Cruise is a Scientologist; Katie Holmes is not. Regardless of your opinions about Scientology ,if TomKat lived in Missouri, the court would not inquire into their religious beliefs unless the court determined exposure to Scientology was not in Suri’s best interest. If the court determined that this kind of religious upbringing detrimental to the child, then Tom’s belief in Scientology would be considered when awarding custody.
The interfaith couple with their children’s best interests at heart can work together to ensure their children are able to experience both religions meaningfully. The courts will not interfere except for rare circumstances. Missouri courts have not considered whether Scientology is in a child’s best interests but, perhaps, depending on whether the TomKat divorce is heard in New York or California, one of those states will be forced to make a decision sometime soon.