The Journal of The DuPage County Bar Association

Back Issues > Vol. 22 (2009-10)

Parenting Agreements for Non-Christian Parents: A Short Primer on Holidays Beyond Christmas
By Emily R. Carrara

The Patels are getting a divorce at the same time as the Bornsteins. The Patels are Hindu, and the Bornsteins are a mixed household, Wiccan mother and Jewish father. Opposing counsel has sent over a proposed joint parenting agreement, complete with Christmas and Easter. Sending this on to the client is sure to cause a few eyebrows to raise, and might result in a few gruff phone calls. As family law practitioners, knowing a client’s specific family and religious traditions in crafting settlement agreements or mediating a final resolution will provide that extra touch that client’s expect, and appreciate.

Religion and religious holidays mean different things for different people. Some people, during the course of their marriage, have decided to practice one faith or another. Now that the parties are splitting up and becoming two households, the other faith rise to prominence, and could result in additional parenting issues. For example, in family number one, the mother, is Catholic and the father is Jewish. The parties have one daughter, and after she was born, both the mother and the father agreed to raise her according the Catholic faith. The daughter attended CCD and received her first communion. However, the parties did go to the father’s parents’ house for Passover and celebrated one night of Hannukah with them. The mother and daughter did not actively participate in the celebrations. Now the tides have changed. The parties are now going through a divorce. Attorney for the mother has prepared a Joint Parenting Agreement, which allocates the Christian holidays to your client and the Jewish holidays to the father.

The father objects to the allocation of the holidays, and relates to the mother he wants to share in the Christmas tradition that she has established, and has requested Christmas Eve overnight to Christmas Day in alternating years. The mother is deeply offended, as her tradition is to attend midnight Mass and open presents. What is the resolution? Some judges may insist that the father cannot have it both ways. If the father wants to now celebrate the Jewish holidays, then he cannot now have parenting time with the child on the Christian holidays.

In our ever changing society, more and more people celebrate many different religious and spiritual holidays, such as Judaism, Islam, Wicca, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and mixtures of many faiths. In crafting settlement agreements, the first step is to understand the holidays and discuss with clients their specific family traditions. Knowing the basic holidays, and their significance, is the extra touch that client’s expect.

Though not the only other faith in DuPage County, more often than not Judaism is the next likely religion encountered in divorcing families. Jewish holidays, though close in the calendar year, do not mirror the Christian holidays entirely. The major Jewish holidays are as follows. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish civil new year, and it runs from sundown on the night before the holiday until sundown on the second day. Shortly thereafter is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on the night before the holiday until sundown on the day of the holiday. These two holidays occur in the Fall. Typically, December is the time for the next Jewish holiday – Hanukkah. Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, lasts eight days, and it is the commemoration of the miracle of the oil in the Temple burning for eight days, even though there was only enough oil for one night. The first night is the most important, as the story of Hanukkah, and its meaning are emphasized on this night. In the springtime, sometimes near, and sometimes after, Easter is the Jewish feast of Passover. Passover represents the exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery and lasts eight nights (begins at sundown on the previous day). The Passover meal, the Seder, is the biggest part of this celebration, filled with stories, songs, and symbolism. There are other, lesser known, lesser celebrated holidays, such as Shavu’ot (the giving of the Ten Commandments) and Purim (deliverance of the Israelites from the Persians), which may be celebrated.

Some families follow the Muslim faith, also known as Islam. Out of an abundance of cultural and religious respect, only a very brief glimpse can be given to these holidays. Islamic holidays have special traditions and customs, and the client should really spell out the times and the significance of these days. As an additional caveat, it is important to be mindful of the particular sect that the Muslim client practices – Sunni or Shi’a. The major Islamic holidays celebrated by Muslims are as follows. Muharram begins the Islamic Year. Ashura is a day of fasting on the tenth day of Muharram, and is, to Shi’a Muslims, tied to the martyring of the grandson of Muhammad . Mawlid al-Nabi is the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday, is known by many names, including, the Big Eid and the Feast of Sacrifice. It commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham’s) willingness to obey Allah (God) when he was asked to sacrifice his son. Joy and generosity of the keys to this holiday. The other Eid is Eid al-Fitr. It concludes the month long fasting (from sunrise to sundown) known as Ramadan, and is replete with celebrations and ceremonies.

In addition to the above-mentioned religions, one religion that is experiencing a rapid growth in the U.S., Canada, and Europe is Wicca. In the United States, the number of Wiccans is doubling about every eighteen months1. Wicca is a nature-based faith, not necessarily deriving its structure from a religious text. For most Wiccans, they follow two gods, a male god (representing the father, the sun, the hunt, and sexuality), and a female god (representing the mother, the moon, the harvest, and fertility) The Wiccan holidays are categorized by eight festivals (Sabbats) are as follows. Imbolc is the February Eve holiday. Ostara is the Spring Equinox. Beltane is the feast of May Eve. Litha is the Summer Solstice. Lughnasadh is the August Eve, the festival of the harvest. Mabon is the Autumnal Equinox. Samhain is the Halloween feast, commemorating the dead and representing the beginning of the New Year. Yule is the Winter Solstice. The festivals marking the passage of seasons are traditionally the "mother" festivals, while the festivals that fall on the "eves" are the "father" festivals.

Though in no way a comparison of the faiths, like Wicca, the Hindu holidays tend to follow the passage of the seasons. They are purifying holidays, and designed to renew the spirt. In the passing of February to March is the festival of colors and springtime, known as Holi. Mahashivaratri is the sacred night to the god Shiva. Raksâbandhana, a summer celebration, marks the renewing of bonds between brothers and sisters. Ganehsa-Chaturthi is the fall festival honoring the god Ganesha. Diwali is a the festival of lights in the late fall, lasting for five days. Again, clients are the greatest source of actual celebrations and the importance of them, given the varying sects of Hinduism.

There are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. The most significant celebration is Vesak, which happens every May, on the night of the first full moon, except leaps years when it occurs in June. This is a time when Buddhists all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. The Buddhist new year varies by the country of origin, so again, the client will be the best source of the date and significance of every holiday. The various sects have different holidays for different reasons, and it is important to gather this information from the beginning of the client intake.

No matter what faith each of the parties adheres to, it is imperative that the lawyer obtains as much information about the family traditions, special celebrations, and rituals before putting pen to paper. It is important to ask questions about each parent’s holiday traditions, such as where do the day is spent; where does the celebration take place; what time does the holiday begin and what time does it end; and how is the holiday celebrated. Bear in mind that religion is a thorny area. Children who are forced to choose a religion may turn away from faith altogether. Parents who fight over holidays tend to make the holidays a time of strife and division for the child. Families who use gifts and lavishness, often at the expense of the meaning of the holiday, demean the very purpose of allocating the holidays, which is to give the parent time to celebrate a very special time with the child. Talking to clients about the importance of keeping the holidays special and non-confrontation will make the allocation of the holidays an easier task to handle. With the answers to these questions and the knowledge of each specific religious holiday, family law practitioners are better able to draft parenting agreements that take into consideration the parents’ wishes, the richness of cultural traditions, and the best interest of the children.

Emily R. Carrara is an attorney with the law firm of Sullivan Taylor & Gumina, P.C. in Wheaton, Illinois. She received her J.D. from The John Marshall Law School in 2001, where she graduated with honors. Ms. Carrara is a member of the DuPage County Bar Association, Kane County Bar Association, American Bar Association, and Illinois State Bar Association. Ms. Carrara was named one of the Eight Women to Watch by the DuPage County Bar Association and has been a presenter on various family law topics.

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