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Cruise-Holmes divorce: Scientology still possible for Suri

July 10, 2012 |  6:36 am

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Katie Holmes was awarded primary custody of her 6-year-old daughter with Tom Cruise in a quick, behind-closed-doors divorce settlement, but the "Mission: Impossible" star will still have a legal right to teach his daughter Scientology while she is in his care, experts say.

With a prenuptial agreement governing the distribution of assets, talks between lawyers for Cruise, a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, and Holmes, who was raised Roman Catholic, centered on the role of Scientology in the upbringing of Suri, according to a source familiar with the negotiations but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

The agreement provides Cruise with visitation rights but gives Holmes the lead role in choosing how Suri will be educated, the source said Monday.

PHOTOS: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes through the years

But experts in so-called spiritual custody disputes said although family law judges try to ensure that the interests of children of divorce are protected in matters such as medical care and housing, they give both parents broad leeway in choosing a religious upbringing.

"The general rule is the courts will defer unless the consequences are really detrimental to the health of the child — a threat of immediate and substantial harm," said Jeffrey Shulman, a professor of law at Georgetown University who has written extensively about the issue and believes the standard doesn't protect children sufficiently.

In the case of Cruise and Scientology, a judge could intervene if the religion was used to turn Suri away from Holmes because she was not an adherent, Shulman said.

PHOTOS: Famous members of Scientology

"The courts could say to Cruise, 'You cannot conduct yourself in a way that alienates the child from Katie Holmes,'" he said. "But mere doctrine may not be enough for the court to do that."

Courts won't rule on the merits of a particular religion, New York lawyer Malcolm Taub said.

"They would not say that Scientology is not a valid religion, so we're going to award [sole spiritual custody] to Katie Holmes," Taub said.

The confidential deal was hammered out over the weekend in New York and announced Monday, 11 days after Holmes took the industry and reportedly her husband by surprise with the filing of divorce papers in Manhattan.

Cruise and Holmes appeared to refer to the religious component of their split in a joint statement: "We want to keep matters affecting our family private and express our respect for each other's commitment to each of our respective beliefs and support each other's roles as parents," they said.


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— Richard Winton, John Horn and Harriet Ryan

Photo: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and their daughter, Suri, visit Schenley Plaza's carousel in Pittsburgh in October 2011. Credit: James Devaney / WireImage