(Family Division; HHJ Bellamy, sitting as a judge of the High Court; 24 August 2011)
The parents of a 4-year-old boy separated. The mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, the father Anglican and in the armed forces. The father sought to restrict the mother’s influence on the child regarding her religion which involved taking him to meetings and house to house evangelism and restricting his participation in activities which she considered inconsistent with her faith such as attending birthday parties, celebrating Christmas and visiting other places of worship. She had withdrawn the child from a nativity play when she found out he had a part without consulting the father.
A shared residence order was agreed in principle and the judge ordered a broadly equal sharing of time which would help guard against the risk of one party’s religion predominating. Neither parent has a predominant right to choose a child's religious upbringing and restrictions can be imposed where that is necessary for the welfare of the child. Restrictions were placed on both parents teaching the child their beliefs and involving the child in certain elements of religious practice, however both should continue to take him to their respective places of worship. It was important the child did not feel under pressure or conflicted. The child was not to be denied participation in standard school activities. Arrangements were put in place in relation to giving consent to any medical treatment of the child using blood products should it be necessary, since the mother felt unable to give her consent tor such treatment. A family assistance order was made for 6 months.