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Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Custody Cases in the United States, 1996-1998

Carolyn R. Wah
Review of Religious Research
Vol. 42, No. 4 (Jun., 2001), pp. 372-386
DOI: 10.2307/3512130
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3512130
Page Count: 15
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Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Custody Cases in the United States, 1996-1998
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Abstract

Disputes over religious training between divorced or separated parents can become the most acrimonious of judicial disputes. When one parent is a member of a non-mainstream or minority religion, the religious differences can be an added source of tension. To date, no behavioral science research study has been conducted that systematically evaluates the effects of a parent's religious beliefs or practices on the best psychological interests of the child. This study sought to provide basic demographic and litigation-related data about child custody cases in the United States involving Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, this study explored the relationship between various litigation variables and the outcome of child custody cases. The data for this study was collected from cases in which the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, the corporate entity for Jehovah's Witnesses, activated a file for the purpose of monitoring, consultation, or litigation during 1996, 1997, and 1998. Outcome and other data about the parents were collected from the congregation elders of Jehovah's Witnesses where the parent attends meetings. While this study was exploratory and preliminary in nature, the results suggest that the religious beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses were not the primary factor related to the dissolution of the marriage. The findings from this study also indicate that while religion is commonly labeled as the principal issue at the beginning of the litigation, it is rarely a factor in the conclusion or settlement of the case. Studies examining the relationship between a child's involvement in these cases and their future social and psychological adjustment as well as their future religious preferences may provide important and meaningful information.

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