Who Gets The Religion?

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Divorce comes in many shapes and sizes. Just read all the articles on this site and you can see that everyone has their own experiences and issues with divorce. One thing that can be a big issue in divorce is who gets the religion.

If you and your spouse came from two different religions when you got married, chances are you picked one and that was how you raised your children. If you are lucky then there was a compromise and you met somewhere in the middle. If you are even luckier, you each enjoyed your own religion separately with no conflict.

According to the Barna Research Group, who did a study in 1999, the rates of divorce were the highest for Jews at 30% and the lowest for Atheists and Agnostics at 21%, and these were couples that shared the same religion.

Vera Lawlor, from The Bergen Record in Hakensack, NJ., wrote that inter-faith marriages have a failure rate that is 50% higher than same-faith marriages. She does not cite a source for this datum. Since the rate for all marriages is on the order of 50%, this would imply an almost 75% failure rate for inter-faith marriages - 3 chances out of 4.

Egon Mayer, a professor at Brooklyn College, published another study confirming that inter-faith couples experience higher divorce rates. Referring to the case where one spouse abandons their religion and adopts their spouse's faith, he said in USA Today:

"When you bury something that is really important to you, all you're doing is building up a kind of pressure within the family relationship, which becomes a source of tension, which ultimately becomes a time bomb. If there's any reason why intermarriages break up, it's because of that time bomb."

So, who gets the religion when you get divorced? Many interfaith couples that get divorced go back to their roots and start to practice the religions they were brought up with. When that happens, the children are suddenly thrust from a singular religion to two different religions, which can lead to confusion of faith, during an already confusing time.

It would be nice if the post divorce couple could agree to raise the children in a singular religion, while they each practice their own religions, but life is not always that simple. For instance, my ex and I are both Jewish, yet we practice it very differently. He is Orthodox and I am a Reform Jew. While we were married, there was not a choice but to practice Judaism in an Orthodox manner. I was never comfortable in this role, but did the best I could and learned and adapted.

When we got divorced, our children were very young, and he knew that I would not continue to practice Orthodox Judaism or keep Kosher. I also knew that he would. It was never said, but the children would experience both worlds, and they do experience both worlds.

My children don't ask why they keep Kosher and Shabbat at their father's house and not at my house. They go to a Jewish Day School and any religion they are not getting, I know that my ex will provide it. When they ask me what they should be when they grow up, either Reform or Orthodox, I tell them that they are lucky because they get to experience and learn from both, and then, when they are older, they can decide how they want to live their lives. They know that if they choose the Orthodox lifestyle that I love them no matter who or what they are.

I am lucky in the respect that in my divorce, although we practice our faith in very different ways, we are both Jewish. But, what happens to those that who are Jewish and Catholic? I know of someone who practiced Judaism for years of her marriage and then when she got a divorce suddenly put up Christmas trees and went to church. I didn't even know she wasn't Jewish, and her children are confused and lost.

In a perfect world, when an interfaith couple gets a divorce, they will continue to raise the children with the same religion in both homes, but not only is that not happening, it is not reasonable to ask one parent to continue to not be true to who they feel they are. And, the one thing the courts will stay out of is telling each parent how they should practice religion in their respective homes.

How do we answer the question, who gets the religion? You both get the religion, and to make it less confusing for your children, let them know that they are lucky to be able to learn both religions and then have choices when they grow up on which they want to practice. And, most importantly, let them know that no matter what they choose, you will love them just the same.