Friday, September 08, 2017

NY Appeals Court Rules On Custody After Divorce of Hasdic Jewish Couple

In Weisberger v. Weisberger, (NY App., Aug. 16, 2017), a New York appellate court modified a trial court's custody order in a divorce proceeding.  At issue was the party's original agreement regarding the Jewish religious upbringing of their children. That agreement provided that the mother would raise the children in the "Hasidic practices of ultra Orthodoxy." The parties had divorced after the mother revealed that she was attracted to women rather than men.  When the mother changed the family's religious practices (and also began living with a transgender man), the trial court awarded the father full custody of the children.  The appeals court modified that order, returning custody to the mother with increased visitation rights for the father, and provided the father would have custody of the children during Jewish holidays.  It also ruled:
While we respect the parties' right to agree to raise their children in a chosen religion ... the weight of the evidence does not support the conclusion that it is in the children's best interests to have their mother categorically conceal the true nature of her feelings and beliefs from them at all times and in all respects, or to otherwise force her to adhere to practices and beliefs that she no longer shares.... 
This is not to say that it would be in the children's best interests to become completely unmoored from the faith into which they were born and raised.... [I]t is in the children's best interests to continue to permit the father to exercise final decision-making authority over the children's education and to continue to permit him to require the children to practice full religious observance in accordance with the Hasidic practices of ultra Orthodoxy while they are in his custody, or in the custody of a school that requires adherence to such practices.... [W]e deem it appropriate to direct the mother to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the children's appearance and conduct comply with the Hasidic religious requirements of the father and of the children's schools while the children are in the physical custody of their father or their respective schools. Further, in light of the mother's proposal ... to keep a kosher home and to provide the children exclusively with kosher food, we find that it would be in their best interests for her to do so.... Except for these specified matters, we otherwise modify the religious upbringing clause to allow each parent to exercise his or her discretion while the children are in his or her care or custody.
JTA reported on the decision in an article published this week. [Thanks to Rabbi Michael Simon for the lead.]