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Child Custody: the focus of Tom and Katie's divorce settlement

Divorcing parents in Rhode Island will be interested to learn that Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have reached a divorce settlement just 11 days after Holmes filed for divorce. There was little argument over the division of money, but custody of their 6-year-old daughter, Suri, was the focus of their legal battle. Holmes requested sole custody in the divorce papers she filed. It has been reported that Cruise's religion, Scientology, had a lot to do with her seeking sole custody.

In making child custody determinations, courts look at what is in the best interest of the child. Determining the best interest of the child involves looking at many aspects of the child's life--including religion. When courts are asked to make a determination about what religion a child should follow after a separation or divorce, they have to balance two important but competing interests. The courts must balance the parent's First Amendment right to raise their child against the best interests of the child.

State courts apply different standards when determining whether to restrict a parent's First Amendment Right to raise their child in the religion they choose. Rhode Island follows the "actual or substantial harm" standard, which means that the court will only restrict a parent's First Amendment right to raise their child under a religion of their choosing when the other parent can prove that those religious activities cause actual or substantial harm to the child.

While details of the celebrity couple's resolution have been kept private, both Tom and Katie seem to be happy. A person facing divorce or separation should not deal with such a complicated and stressful situation alone. A person may need help in deciding alimony, child custody and other issues around the divorce.

Source: People Magazine, "Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes Reach Divorce Settlement," July 9, 2012

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