How do Michigan courts handle disputes over religious upbringing of children?

Understanding the Legal Framework in Michigan for Religious Upbringing Disputes

In Michigan, as in many other states, disputes over the religious upbringing of children can arise during divorce proceedings or as a separate issue between parents with shared custody. The courts have a duty to resolve these disputes by balancing the constitutional right to religious freedom with the best interests of the child.

Best Interests of the Child Standard

In any case involving children, Michigan courts apply the 'best interests of the child' standard. This involves an assessment of various factors, including the mental and physical health of the parents, the emotional ties between parent and child, and the child's adjustment to home, school, and community. The court also considers the capacity of each parent to provide love, affection, guidance, and continuation of the educating and raising of the child in their religion or creed if it has been part of their upbringing.

Legal Precedents and Statutory Guidelines

Michigan courts have established precedents through various cases that provide guidelines on how to navigate religious upbringing disputes. For instance, in Lombardo v. Lombardo, it was held that if religious activities do not harm the child, then interfering with those activities by the non-custodial parent would be discouraged.

Statutory law also plays a role. The Child Custody Act of 1970 outlines factors for courts to consider when determining custody and parenting time. While religion is not explicitly mentioned, it falls under moral welfare considerations.

Joint Legal Custody and Religious Decisions

In situations where parents share joint legal custody, both have an equal say in making decisions about their child’s religious upbringing. If they cannot agree, either party can petition the court for a decision.

For example, in DeLamielleure v. DeLamielleure, a father argued that his Catholic beliefs should be given preference when raising his children. The court ruled that since both parents shared joint legal custody, they had to make such decisions together unless one parent's choices were detrimental to the child's welfare.

The Role of the Child’s Preference

Michigan law allows for consideration of a child's preference if they are deemed mature enough to express a reasonable preference. As they reach adolescence, their religious wishes may carry more weight in court decisions.


Disputes over religious upbringing are sensitive and complex. Michigan courts strive to respect parental rights while ensuring that a child's best interests are paramount. In doing so, they consider statutory guidelines, relevant case law precedents, and particular circumstances surrounding each case.