Guest post by Vince Frese. Visit his blog at vincefrese.com for more articles and insights.
Raising our children Catholic after a divorce can be very difficult if your former spouse is not cooperative.
There are two ways to help ensure our kids keep the faith: the worldly and the spiritual. Both are necessary, and must be in the right balance, to ensure consistency in raising your kids Catholic. That’s really all we can hope for since “divorce” and “consistency” don’t tend to go together.
The spiritual approach is the most readily available. In short, it means praying fervently to God, Jesus, the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and St. Michael, to keep our kids Catholic despite what is swirling around them. This is fundamental; pray every day.
The worldly approach is a little more of a bare-knuckle approach because it involves the legal process. If you have not finalized your divorce, then I highly encourage you to put into your divorce decree very specific requirements regarding your children’s Catholic faith. Once it is in writing, you have the power of the courts to back you up and help you facilitate raising your kids Catholic. That is much better then leaving it up to the fickle nature of an former spouse.
Here are some suggestions:
Key 1: Get the kids back by 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Have in your decree that you get the kids back by 4 p.m. on Sundays. This will allow you time to get to the Sunday evening Mass. Many agreements default to 6 p.m. That’s too late.
Key 2. Ask your former spouse to cooperate.
Have in your decree that your former spouse will make every effort to cooperate in raising the children Catholic. Specify that this also means not introducing them to other faiths. This creates confusion and anxiety. Sorry, the Protestant faiths are very different than the Catholic faith no matter what your former spouse might try to tell you (and the kids). This also means not speaking badly of the faith or of you for raising them Catholic. Get that in your agreement.
Key 3: Have the kids every Easter.
Put in your decree that you have your kids back by 9 a.m. every Easter. Chances are you won’t get a fight, especially if your former spouse is not practicing the faith. Easter is the most important day of the liturgical year. Make sure your kids are celebrating it.
Key 4: Ensure the kids always get to CCD classes.
Be sure to have in your decree that your former spouse will take the kids to CCD (i.e. faith formation) classes if it occurs on their weekend. This also means allowing the kids to go on retreats, receive their sacraments (e.g. First Communion), and other church activities when they fall on the former spouse’s visitation time.
Key 5: Require your former spouse to take the kids to Mass.
See if you can’t get your former spouse to agree to take the kids to Mass on their Sundays. It may be a long shot, but ask for it anyway.
Be Prepared to Negotiate
You may be thinking, “Yeah right, my former spouse would NEVER agree to any of this.” Okay, maybe he/she won’t, but you need to try. You may have to get very creative with your negotiations. If money is a big deal with your former spouse, consider making some economic concessions. Isn’t your kids’ salvation worth it? If time is a big deal, offer more time with the kids. The point is, just about anything of this world is worth giving up in exchange for consistency and a firm foundation for your kids in their Catholic faith.
Consistency is Rewarded
Lastly, you might be surprised how supportive judges are of maintaining the children’s faith lives. Judges don’t like major changes from how the kids were raised prior to the divorce. They understand that radical changes cause undue anxiety and stress for kids. Judges like consistency. If you have been consistent in raising your kids Catholic prior to the divorce, the chances are extremely good that the judge will support you in raising them Catholic after the divorce.
Fighting for their faith before the divorce is settled is well worth the effort. Like the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
It’s Never Too Late to Make Changes
If you have already settled your divorce, it is still not too late. Now that you have been living with your agreement for some period of time, it is highly likely there are things about it that both you and your former spouse would like changed. Use that as an opportunity to renegotiate to get some of the above concessions in your agreement.
You don’t necessarily have to go back to court. If you both can agree on it, that will work as an informal agreement. This is not the best since the former spouse might renege on the changes they agreed upon as soon as some other disagreement comes up (and it most likely will). But, any victory is a victory, no matter how small.
The Courts Might Be Your Only Option
Sadly, you may have to go back to court and fight for changes to the agreement to help ensure a Catholic upbringing for your kids, especially if your former spouse is totally uncooperative, or worse, is undermining the kids’ faith.
In any case, pray to St. Michael and put your kids firmly in his care. He is our protector and defender!
Question: How successful have you been raising your kids Catholic after divorce? Share your answer in the Comments section below.