Kewanee, IL asked in Family Law for Illinois

Q: Can a judge rule that a parent can only take their children to one church and no other church?

My girlfriend divorced her ex-husband and their settlement agrees to raise the children catholic. She only agreed to this due to being under duress of pleasing the family, as well as only wanting the children to attend CCD when with her, as this is raising them catholic, but not attend mass as she is a non-denominational, christian believer and wanted to take the children to her church. The judge ruled she is only allowed to take the children to the catholic church in our town and she is forced to not take her children to any other church. Is this against the children and her first amendment rights? What can we do to change or override this ruling?

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1 Lawyer Answer
David Giffin
David Giffin
  • Urbana, IL
  • Licensed in Illinois

A: I'm sorry to see you are dealing with this kind of sensitive and challenging issue. In my opinion, your girlfriend's biggest obstacle is that she entered a written settlement that the court approved. When parties make an agreed parenting plan, so long as the plan is not against a child's best interests, the court must accept it. The specific language of that written agreement is what the court is bound to enforce. Even if your girlfriend subjectively thought she would only have to take the kids to CCD classes, if the language is more broad or all-encompassing, she may have agreed to take the kids to Mass as well. Based on the facts you shared, it could be difficult for her to claim she misunderstood the terms or that she signed under duress.

It is somewhat concerning that the court completely barred your girlfriend from taking the kids to other churches, even if she also took them to regular Mass. However, without more details, it is not clear whether there is a viable claim that the court's order violates the First Amendment. An attorney with constitutional law expertise would likely need to review transcripts of the hearings and copies of the written filings to be sure.

If your girlfriend wants to challenge the order, there are a few options. First, if the order was entered less than 30 days ago, she may be able to either appeal to a higher court, or file a motion to reconsider asking the trial court judge to rethink their legal conclusion about the parenting plan. Second, if over two years have passed since the entry of the original settlement agreement, she may be able to file a motion with the court seeking to modify the terms of the parenting plan. Third, if the parenting plan has a mediation provision, following the steps in that provision and obtaining a mediator could be helpful for airing the disagreement with her ex-husband and negotiating an agreed modification to the parenting plan.

This situation will be difficult for your girlfriend to handle by herself. She should definitely contact a family law attorney local to her area for help. Good luck.

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