Orthodox children ‘should live with both parents’, court rules

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The two children of an orthodox Jewish mother should live with their father part of the time, a family court judge ruled in a recently published judgement.

‘A’ and ‘B’, aged nine and seven, have been the subject of multiple family court judgements as a result of their parents’ contentious divorce after the father chose to leave the family’s strictly orthodox Haredi community in London. His decision was described in a subsequent ruling as having had a “cataclysmic impact on each member of the family”.

After leaving the father became involved with the more moderate Modern Orthodox community and the parents remained at loggerheads for a number of years over the amount of time he could spend with his children and the extent of his involvement in their education. The mother believed his more secular views would confuse the children.

In 2016 Her Honour Judge Rowe QC ruled that the children should live with their mother and spend only a limited amount of time with their father, excluding all major festivals in the Haredi calendar.

But the father grew dissatisfied with this arrangement and applied for an alternative approach, arguing that the youngsters live with both their parents. He wanted them to spend every Sunday night at his home so he could take them to school on Monday mornings, and also asked the court to alternate the parent they spent religious festivals with. The mother opposed his application, saying she could not agree to the children spending any Sabbaths or major festivals with him – but she did offer to change his allotted times as a compromise.

In her subsequent ruling, Judge Rowe noted:

“This is my fifth substantive judgment in respect of these two children”.

“Substantive” law relates to behaviour – i.e. rights and responsibilities in civil law or crime in criminal law.  ‘Procedural” laws, by contrast, are the rules that govern the creation of substantive law.

Circumstances had changed for both parents Judge Rowe explained. The mother had remarried and now had a third child, while the father had begun studying for a degree in computer science. He had also re-adopted a religiously observant lifestyle.

The Judge praised the parents for not having allowed their disagreements get in the way of the children’s right to a healthy relationship with each of them.

“It is a credit to the parents that even with the difficulties on which this judgment must inevitably focus, these lovely children continue to have a close, loving and important relationship with both of their parents.”

After a careful consideration of the evidence, the Judge declared:

”I conclude that the children should live with both parents.”

This was because:

“The evidence demonstrates that the mother, the community and the children’s schools share the view that the father is [now] not a proper Jew, and that he should be excluded as far as possible from the children’s religious life and education. An order that the children live with both parents is essential, now, to make clear once and for all that the parents are equally important to their children. Each must have the same input into all important aspects of the children’s lives. The views and wishes of each are as important as the other. There should not remain in place an order that might be taken to imply that the mother is more important than the father in the children’s lives.

The Judge added that the children should spend Sunday nights and alternate festival days with their father because they “should be able to experience the key festival days with both of their parents” and because the mother’s insistence that the children only visit their father in the late afternoon after  religious school on Sundays would be “very limiting” and “not in the children’s best interests”.

Read the ruling here.

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