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Custody fight focuses on religious traditions (part 2)

We were talking about a Chicago child custody dispute that centered on the religious upbringing of the child. The mother converted to Hassidic Judaism when she married again. The father, though he agreed to raise the boy as a Jew, believes her "extremism" -- she keeps kosher -- is driving a wedge between him and his son. The mother has petitioned the court to toss out the previous custody agreement and to give her sole custody. The father vigorously disagrees.

A child psychiatrist called by the mother's attorney has expressed his concern that the stalemate is affecting the boy, causing anxiety and some behavioral problems. After interviewing both parents, he agreed with the mother about the father's intentional flouting of Jewish law. He believed the father was making a point of serving non-kosher meals -- including bacon -- to the boy. He has recommended that the mother have sole custody.

The father's attorney will call witnesses to support the father's argument. The attorney said, too, that he planned to focus on the mother's past as an exotic dancer (the father was the club manager) and compare it with her current devout practices to illustrate her tendency toward extremes.

It's not a given that a court will modify a custody agreement. The parties must present clear and convincing evidence that the modification is justified. The court will make its decision with Illinois' "best interest of the child" standard -- including what will be best for the son's mental and physical well-being and what alternative will help to ensure that each parent "facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child." (750 ILCS 5/602) The comments of the one psychiatrist and the rancor between the parents indicate that the latter guideline may be impossible to achieve.

If the decision is not to one of the parent's liking, there could be an appeal. Depending on how far the case goes, the decision could affect how other parents determine custody arrangements in the future.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, "Religion focus of custody fight involving former exotic dancer turned devout Jew," Lisa Donovan, 02/02/11

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