A father of two who left his Orthodox religious community must be allowed to continue seeing his children , a Family Court Judge has ruled.
The case concerned a former couple living in London. Their two children are still quite young.. After their separation, they lived with the mother.
The whole family had practised Satmar Hasidic Judaism until 2013 when the father suddenly decided to leave. At the West London Family Court sitting at Barnet, Her Honour Judge Rowe QC noted that:
“This was a seismic event for the family. The father continued thereafter to follow his Jewish faith but at least for a time he did not practise within a settled Jewish religious community. The court had, at previous hearings, to contend with the mother’s distress and fear of the children being exposed to an alien way of life on the one hand, and the father’s impatience at having to continue to follow the Satmar way of life during his time with the children on the other hand.”
The couple struggled to reach agreement regarding arrangements for the children. While the father was able to see them, the mother continued to object to his rejection of Satmar practices and pushed for the cessation of all contact, claiming he did not meet her religious expectations during the visits. Arguments over the frequency and length of his time with the youngsters and what should occur during the visits returned to court on several occasions. The parents faced the difficulty of helping the children “move between two different worlds” explained the Judge, and also argued over which schools they should attend.
Despite the continuing disagreements the father continued to see the children on prescribed days, including the Sabbath over alternative weekends. He made no attempt to become the resident parent and the children continue to live with the mother most of the time.
Their time at home included all Jewish religious festivals since the couple’s separation, despite a previous order specifying that they should spend some festivals with their father. He applied to have this order enforced while she countered with an application for Sabbath days to be entirely excluded from the father’s contact schedule, along with all festival days.
Judge Row explained:
“The mother’s case is that the father has shown a disregard for the rules of the Sabbath, by allowing the children to see and do things forbidden to them – and which the father knew full well was forbidden to them – such as seeing electronic devices, pressing switches and riding their bikes. Further she says that he has allowed the children to eat non kosher food, and he has refused to wear the kippah [traditional brimless cap] at all times when the children are with him.”
The father no longer cared about the religious festivals he had previously observed she claimed.
The Judge rejected the mother’s application, on the grounds that:
“I find that there have probably been occasional deviations from the Satmar rules for reasons including mistakes and occasional carelessness of the father or others, however I do not find that the father has deliberately or intentionally flouted the expectations on him or, in any event, that these have been either frequent or generalised.”
Religious tensions between the erstwhile couple made it especially important, the Judge explained, that the children continue to see their father on a regular basis and that time must include religious holidays she concluded.
“I remain of the view that especially given the Satmar difficulty – and the mother’s difficulty – in acknowledging that the father is still Jewish, it is vital for these children to see that he is. To that end they must spend important religious days with him just as with the mother. Both parents must be part of the fabric of the children’s lives.”
The full judgement can be read here.
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