Raising out children Catholic after a divorce can be very difficult if the other spouse is not cooperative, and 9 times out of 10 they are not. Heck, if they were strong Catholics, you most likely would not have ended up divorced.
There are two ways to approach this: the temporal and the spiritual. Both are necessary and in the right balance for the odds to be put in your favor of insuring consistency in raising your kids Catholic. That’s really all we can hope for is “consistency” in living our Catholic faith with our children since “divorce” and “consistency” tend to be oxymorons.
The spiritual approach is the most readily available. In short, it means praying like crazy to God, to Jesus, to the Blessed Mother, to St. Joseph, and to St. Michael to keep our kids Catholic despite what is swirling around them. This is fundamental. Do that every day.
The temporal 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 ex-spouse.
Here are some suggestions:
- Have in your decree that you get the kids back by 4PM on Sundays. This will allow you time to get to the Sunday evening Mass. Many agreements “default” to 6PM. That’s too late.
Have in your decree that your ex-spouse will make every effort to cooperate with you in raising your children Catholic. State that this also means not introducing them to other faiths because that causes the kids confusion and anxiety. Sorry, the Protestant faiths are very different then the Catholic faith no matter what your ex 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.
Put in your decree that you have your kids by 9AM every Easter. Chances are you won’t get a fight, especially if your ex is not practicing their faith. Easter is the most important day of the Liturgical year. Make sure your kids are celebrating it.
Be sure to have in your decree that your ex will take the kids to their CCD classes, especially if they are on their weekend. This also means allowing them to go on retreats and other church activities, even if it falls on their weekends or other visitation time.
See if you can’t get your ex to agree to take the kids to Mass on the Sunday’s they are with him/her. It may be a long shot, but ask for it anyway.
You may be thinking, “Yeah right, my ex 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 ex, 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, that 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.
Lastly, you might be surprised how supportive judges are of maintaining the children’s faith lives. Judges don’t like major changes in how the kids have been raised prior to the divorce. They understand that radical changes cause undue anxiety and stress for kids. They 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.”
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 ex 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 typically the ex will 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 mater how small, or for how long. Sadly, you may have to go back to court and fight for changes to the agreement to help insure a Catholic upbringing for your kids, especially if your ex is totally uncooperative, or worse, is undermining the kids’ faith.
If all else fails, pray to St. Michael and put your kids firmly in his care. He is our protector and defender.
(c) 2010, Vincent Frese, II
Check out divorcedcatholic.org for answers and insights for divorced or separated Catholics.