Every once in a while, a celebrity divorce will catch my eye. Generally, I could care less about the quickie marriages and divorces of train-wreck publicity hounds like Kim Kardashian and Britney Spears, but occasionally a celebrity divorce can provide more substance than sensationalism.
The divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, now apparently settled amicably, is just that type of case.
My interest is piqued because of their little daughter. Adorable little Suri was born only a few weeks prior to my own daughter’s birth, and throughout the past six years I would catch glimpses of her as she grew from an infant, to a toddler, to a kindergartener and beyond — inevitably seeing photos on supermarket tabloids while I sat in the checkout lane with my own daughter as she grew from an infant, to a toddler, to a kindergartener and beyond. And now, at the heart of Suri’s parents’ divorce was the issue of religion.
This, I could identify with as well. I grew up a child of divorce, with my parents splitting up when I was approximately six years old. My father is Jewish, my mother Catholic, and while there were certain benefits to being exposed to both faiths while growing up–Presents for Hanukkah and Christmas? You bet’cha!–it was a source of some confusion and consternation. In the present case of the celebrity divorce du jour, little Suri is also stuck in the middle — stuck between a father who is famously a Scientologist and a mother who is, well, thankfully not a Scientologist.
Here in South Carolina, religious faith can also be an issue in custodial determinations. Indeed, S.C. Code § 63-15-20 reads as follows:
In placing the child in the custody of an individual or a private agency or institution, the court shall, whenever practicable, select a person or an agency or institution governed by persons of the same religious faith as that of the parents of such child, or, in case of a difference in the religious faith of the parents, then of the religious faith of the child, or, if the religious faith of the child is not ascertainable, then of the faith of either of the parents.
In this particular statute, it appears that Palmetto State lawmakers are focusing on the establishment of continuity when it comes to religious faith as a contributing factor in the upbringing of a child, rather than attempting to resolve a dispute between custodial parents regarding which faith is most appropriate for their child or children. Nevertheless, while S.C. Code § 63-15-20 does not appear on its face to be directly applicable to a mom-versus-dad custodial dispute, case law here reinforces the fact that the Court will consider the faith of a child’s parents in the process of adjudicating custody.
As recently as 2009, the Court of Appeals of South Carolina cited “religious training” as one of the factors considered by the Family Court in determining which parent can meet and serve the best interests of a child, along with other factors such as financial resources, the willingness to facilitate a relationship with the non-custodial parent, bonding between parent and child, and more. And this was only the most recent example about how faith figures into the many factors considered by the Court in an attempt to weigh a child’s welfare and best interests as a controlling consideration in child custody disputes.
From the aforementioned statute, as it relates to continuity, it seems as though the Court is more interested in maintaining stability in values for the child of children in question. If one parent is Jewish and attends synagogue regularly, for example, the continuity brought about by those values being maintained with that Jewish parent may be looked upon more favorably than a Catholic parent who goes through the motions at Easter and Christmas and really is no more involved with his or her parish than is absolutely necessary.
If anything, a comparison between the nature of different faiths should be wholly unnecessary–and, frankly, beyond the scope of the Family Court–unless the tenets of those faiths present a problem with regard to jeopardizing the health, welfare and well-being of the child, or somehow adversely affect the other factors considered in determining the best interests of the child. From what I understand of the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce, it was not Scientology itself that caused concern for little Suri Cruise’s health, welfare and well-being, but rather the actions contemplated by Suri’s father, who apparently intended to send the child away to a notoriously rigorous and strict Scientology-based boarding school of sorts.
And therein lies the distinction. Had this action been taking place here in the Palmetto State, we would have seen the Family Court looking not at the tenets of Scientology, but rather the “religious training” aspects of the school in question. Insofar as that any schooling factors into educational aspects and opportunities considered by the Court in determining the best interests of a child, you can bet that Cruise’s preferred Scientology boot camp would be of paramount importance to a Family Court judge here in South Carolina.
In the meantime, it will make for interesting supermarket tabloid fodder — infinitely more so than anything Kim Kardashian is doing.