Can I make my ex chip in for our children’s bar or bat mitzvahs or quinceñeras?
Resolving the question in Florida divorce of financial responsibility for coming-of-age ceremonies.
Today we continue our discussion of the personal, family, financial and legal issues involved in divorce when it may be in a child’s best interest to participate in a religious right-of-passage ceremony.
Decision-making rights of parents for religious matters
Florida law requires in a divorce that parental responsibility be assigned for major decision-making rights and responsibilities. Parental responsibility broadly can be shared between the parents or assigned solely to one parent. In a negotiated settlement (or a judge’s order), parental responsibility for only religious decisions can be specifically shared or assigned to one parent only. The assignment of parental responsibility may impact decision-making rights concerning coming-of-age ceremonies and celebrations.
If a parent does not have religious decision-making rights, he or she may be reluctant to agree to pay for these costs, unless there is a right to consent to individual expenditures (such as for catering or for music) or a cap is placed on total costs. These are dimensions that can impact the settlement negotiations or court trial.
Negotiate a detailed settlement if possible
The bottom line is that if at all possible, it is likely advantageous to try to negotiate the decision-making responsibilities and cost-sharing arrangements for a right-of-passage ceremony and celebration in a settlement agreement. Issues may include:
- Will one or both parents make decisions or will one decide with the right of veto by the other?
- How will the guest list be determined? Who will pay for out-of-town guests, if anyone?
- Will there be a cap on total expenditures or on each line item?
- Religious expenses related to classes, instruction or the ceremony may be separated out for negotiation from those associated with the celebration.
- Do not forget costs of clothing and salon appointments, if appropriate.
- If the family contemplates a large party, costs to negotiate may include invitations, catering, band or DJ, decorations and flowers, party favors, entertainment for children and many more, depending on how lavish the occasion.
Role of judge in divorce
If the parties do not settle, each should present estimated coming-of-age religious expenses in detail to the judge. The parties will advocate for what they think is in the child’s best interest, along with what their budgeting shows they can afford to contribute, if willing.
There is scant case law in Florida about how a judge might rule on these issues. In Schatz v. Schatz, a case from the District Court of Appeal, Third District, the court finds that it is not inappropriate to order a parent to pay for religious education, holding that a trial court order that a father pay for “Sunday School and Hebrew School and expenses related thereto” did not violate federal or state constitutional provisions related to separation of church and state. The court noted that both parties were Jewish and the father had not objected. The court said that the trial judge had the right to order this provision where the parents “tacitly represented” that it would be a “proper subject” for parental payment for the children’s welfare.
While the court has the power to issue an order that a parent pay for religious education, depending on the evidence, there may be a gray area as to how far this reaches. While assigning to a parent the costs of religious instruction and ceremony may be appropriate, it is uncertain whether a judge would be willing to order a parent to share in the cost of a large associated party.
For these reasons, resolving the issue in negotiation and settlement may be advantageous and reduce the stress of a more uncertain court trial.