Religion and celebration of faith can be an area of deep divide or conflict if coParents forget to respect each other’s option to determine religious practice.

A common concern about a child’s religious practice following divorce and separation arises when one coParent no longer values or shares a willingness to ensure religious education or attendance. As noted, divorce and separation involves “tearing” — and when that tearing crosses religious values and previous agreements or promises about how you’ll raise your child together, one coParent may feel profoundly concerned, anxious and betrayed.

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Because religious freedom is an important personal choice, there is no recourse but acceptance that your coParent has a right to his or her own decisions about religious practice and daily activities for your child on his or her residential schedule. That said, coParents often work out ways that allow a child continuity in religious practice/attendance when valued. For example:

  • The practicing parent agrees to take full responsibility for transportation and managing all the logistics of religious attendance — even on the non-practicing parent’s residential time, if this works for the coParent.
  • The practicing parent may agree to swap time for the opportunity to have the child/children attend services/activities with him/her if the coParent agrees.
  • The non-practicing parent agrees to religious attendance in much the same way that he/she agrees to any other extra-curricular activity — taking his/her child to the Sunday evening youth group in the same way he/she’d take the child to piano lessons.
  • The practicing parent participates with the children during his/her residential time and accepts that the non-practicing or “other practicing” parent will manage the child’s activities on his/her residential time.

Certain religious practice milestones for children require education, commitment, practice and ceremony. When coParents come together and determine that a certain milestone is important for their child regardless of adult religious practice, the commitment is to the child. If you’ve agreed to support your child through the steps of completing a religious milestone, your ongoing attention to your child becomes part-and-parcel with your other foundational parenting practices. And, of course, attend their special ceremony.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK.


About Karen Bonnell

Karen has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: