NAJMI v. NAJMI
The parties married in 1988 and have one child, N.N., born in 2002. Father is Muslim and mother is Christian. In 2005, the mother files a complaint for divorce. The Trial Court enters divorce, awarding the mother full custody and appointing her as the parent of primary residence. Moreover, the Trial Court allowed mother to relocate from Lorain County, Ohio to Coldwater, Ohio. Father appeals the judgment, arguing that the Trial Court’s decision is not in the child’s best interest because it prevents the father from being involved in his child’s life and from having his child be available to spend time with him every Friday so they can go to the mosque together. Additionally, the father argues that the Trial Court’s decision does not allow for the major Muslim holidays that require compulsory fasting and compulsory prayers, and all of this is not in the best interest of the child.
To what extent is religious instruction and upbringing relevant to the best interest of a child?
The Court of Appeals affirmed the Trial Court’s custody and parenting time decision, enunciating the Supreme Court of Ohio’s controlling precedent over the issue on the extent a court is entitled to consider religious beliefs in custody cases: “A domestic relations court may consider the religious practices of the parents in order to protect the best interest of a child. However, the United States Constitution flatly prohibits a Trial Court from ever evaluating the merits of religious doctrine or defining the contents of that doctrine. Furthermore, custody may not be denied to a parent solely because she will not encourage her child to salute the flag, celebrate holidays, or participate in extracurricular activities. citation omitted.”
The Ohio Court of Appeals explained that if the Court strictly complied with the father’s wishes, it would be denying the mother’s custody based on her Christian beliefs. The Appellate Court further explained that the Trial Court clearly considered all of the relevant statutory factors and that its judgment was a compromise and consistent with the best interest of the child.