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Bridget Dumps Bernie - Interfaith Divorce Tough on Kids

In the old TV show, "Bridget Loves Bernie," a Catholic girl married a Jewish boy, and hilarity ensued. The chief conflicts weren't between the bride and groom, but, rather, between the two sets of parents. The show lasted one season. Dismissed as chance?

Maybe not. In the U.S., interfaith marriages account for 25 percent of households. However, these couples are three times more likely to wind up separated or divorced, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

Experts suggest that the disharmony stems from each spouse not knowing enough about the other's religion -- or even about their own religion. Parents often impart their belief systems to their children without specific reference to a religion, but those religious underpinnings surface when a difference with a spouse's belief system comes up. In effect, there is a Catholic sensibility, a Jewish sensibility, etc. that is just a part of a person.

Couples considering marriage, though, often gloss over these differences in the haze of romance. The practical aspects seem easy to work out: A Rabbi co-presides at a Catholic wedding and kids exposed to both faiths so they can decide when they're older.

One risk of this approach, according to one professional, is that the child may feel disloyal to one if he or she chooses the religion of the other. "To have a little bit of each," said the professional, "is to end up having nothing."

If it's complicated during the marriage, it is certainly complicated, if not downright ugly, if the couple divorces. Generally, the children are raised in the faith of the custodial parent. If the parties disagree, the court or a divorce mediator can help them figure out a plan.

But, for one man, that just wouldn't cut it. On a regular weekend visitation, he had his daughter baptized. The mother, a Jew raising the daughter as a Jew -- as the couple had agreed -- was appalled. The depth of the father's Catholic faith didn't hit him, he said, until he saw his daughter being raised without a daily Catholic influence.

Theirs may be a rare case. Many couples navigate the complicated territory of their children's religious upbringing with thoughtful, fair-minded compromises. If an interfaith couple is contemplating divorce, though, experts recommend involving clergy from both faiths in developing a plan for their children's religious life.

Resource: Religion & Ethics "Interfaith Divorce" 8/27/10

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