When the Vows Break: Clinton Marriage and Legal Matters of Faith

The media dubbed it "America's Wedding" -- last week's glitzy, high profile nuptials of former President Clinton's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and her now husband, Mark Mezvinsky.

More than the bride's Vera Wang gowns, the reception's extravagant price tag and the big-name guest list, what really got people talking was that Clinton was raised Methodist and Mezvinsky is Jewish.

Major newspapers and TV networks were all over the inter-faith marriage angle -- and I understand why.

Interfaith newlyweds likely will face a slew of challenges over the course of their marriage that same-religion couples don't have to deal with. Often the most difficult issue is deciding how a couple will handle the religious divide when it comes to raising future children. And sadly, more than half of those couples wind up in divorce court.

Because Clinton and Mezvinsky are such a high profile pairing, it's a pretty safe bet that they negotiated a pre-nuptial agreement or even a ketubah -- Jewish agreement that usually details how the couple will raise their children in the Jewish faith, among other things.

At the very least, Clinton and Mezvinsky have probably talked privately about how their religious differences will be handled during their marriage.

It's best for inter-faith couples to settle on how they plan to handle a child's religious education, and how holidays and religious traditions will be celebrated before they say, "I do."

Because if the marriage ultimately doesn't work out, it's my experience that rifts over religious ideals can make already contentious issues such as child custody and visitation potentially volatile situations.

For instance, an interfaith custody case involving one of my clients made national news just weeks before the Clinton/Mezvinsky wedding.

I was hired to advocate to uphold the ketubah agreed to by Rebecca Reyes, who is Jewish, and Joseph Reyes, who is Catholic, when they were married in October 2004. The agreement called for the couple to raising their daughter in the Jewish faith.

Following their separation in April 2008, Mr. Reyes had the child baptized in the Catholic Church against the girl's mother's wishes. He even called a TV news crew to film him taking his daughter to church services in violation of a court order.

The Reyes court fight has lasted more than two years so far, and Fox News, CBS and NBC all featured the case on national news shows.

While the judge ultimately determined Mr. Reyes could take his daughter to church, he still faces criminal charges for allegedly violating the court order. And the case is currently pending an appeal before the First District Illinois Appellate Court.

Unfortunately, the laws of most states do not provide a means of resolving these issues before they occur. Provisions in a prenuptial agreement touching on religious upbringing are only sporadically upheld.

Courts often view these provisions as creating too much of an entanglement between church and state, in violation of the First Amendment, or else may find that the best interests of the child are better served by letting the child experience the religions of both the mother and the father rather than excluding either one.

While enforcement of an agreement may not be guaranteed, it is still best make a decisions about how you two might handle a child's religious upbringing before its time for a baptism or bris.

You might be surprised at how strongly one of you feels about your particular faith -- or wants to raise a child in the same traditions they grew up with.

After all, it's easier to discuss those things now at home with your future spouse, than later in a law office with a divorce attorney like me.


Additional details on the Reyes case and commentary I provided to FOX News, CBS, and NBC on the custody battle that ensued can be found here.