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Court shuts down couple's faith-sharing efforts with grandchild

Child custody determinations in Minnesota are not something that the courts tend to take likely. The tenet that holds sway in establishing who can make decisions related to the upbringing of a child is rooted firmly in the notion that the conditions have to serve the best interests of the child.

But what one concerned adult might consider to be best for a child and what another might consider to be important can often differ. This can be especially true when the transmission of religious belief is involved. And if any family law issue such as this winds up before the court, someone is bound to be unhappy with the outcome.

We suspect this may have been experienced as a result of a case out of Canada. While the laws of that country are not the same as in the United States, they are quite similar and so readers might find the details enlightening.

The parties in this case are a 4-year-old girl, her mother and the child's paternal grandparents. The mother and biological father don't have a relationship. He doesn't play any parental role in the child's life and pays no support. But, since the child's birth, the mother has allowed the father's parents, devout Jehovah's Witnesses, to be part of their granddaughter's life.

Unsupervised access to the girl has been shut down by the court, however, because the grandparents had continued to expose the child to their church, despite the mother's repeated objections.

The mother said she preferred to allow her daughter to make up her own mind about religious participation when she gets older. Another point of objection was that the grandparents insisted that the girl call them Poppa and Momma, rather than Grandpa and Grandma.

The grandparents sought to argue that the restrictions on them violated their right to practice their religion. But the judge said that right doesn't supersede the custodial parent's rights and that the dispute over religion between the adults was not in the child's best interest.

What this reflects is that custody is about more than just where and with whom a child spends time. The nature and quality of that time is also subject to scrutiny.

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