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Parental Disputes, Religious Differences and the Welfare of the Children

Alex Verdan QC, Sam King and Ruth Kirby, all of 4 Paper Buildings, consider recent judgments in cases involving parental disputes resulting from one parent deciding to depart life in an Hassidic community.

Alex Verdan QC, 4 Paper BuildingsSam King, barrister, 4 Paper BuildingsRuth Kirby, barrister, 4 Paper Buildings










Alex Verdan
, Sam King and Ruth Kirby, all of 4 Paper Buildings

In an echo of the case of Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013], The Children Act by Ian McEwan begins with the judge having to finish writing a judgment in a case in which she has to decide which school two strictly-orthodox girls should attend.  It is a scenario which has come before the court on a number of occasions since the novel was published.  It touches upon some fundamental themes which run through cases involving the strictly-orthodox community.

Most recently the secular courts have confronted perhaps more troubling matters when, on 30 January 2017, Mr Justice Peter Jackson's approved judgment in J v B and The Children [2017] EWFC 4 was released and made headlines in the national press.  In some ways it was just another private law dispute between estranged parents who could not agree about their children's future but it also raised some unique issues. The father of five children, aged between two and 12, had left his family home and community to live as a woman.  She had confided in her twelve-year-old son before leaving and had then embarked on her difficult journey of gender reassignment.  Six months after she left, she applied to the court for a child arrangements order so that she could spend time with her children.  The mother of the children opposed future contact between the children and their father other than by way of letters, cards and photographs. 

The application was conducted in the High Court because the issues touched upon in the case did not just relate to the father's gender reassignment, but raised the issue in the context of a family rooted in Hassidic Judaism who were part of the strictly-orthodox community in North Manchester. 

Mr Justice Peter Jackson decided, exceptionally, not to allow any direct contact between the children and their father.  In reaching that conclusion, he said that he did so "with real regret, knowing the pain that it must cause…"  He stated: "This outcome is not a failure to uphold transgender rights, still less a 'win' for the community, but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making."

It is clear from the judgment that it was only following the most careful welfare balance that the court reached its decision. Why then the headlines which followed? The Times and the Guardian confined their headlines to referring to the transgender and ultra-orthodox Jewish contexts, the Independent's headline on 30 January was "Transgender woman stopped from seeing children because it is 'incompatible' with their Jewish faith".  The New Statesman, having condemned the decision in peremptory fashion, said: "Of course, the other side of that coin, however, is that it should come as heartening news for the leaders of insular communities looking to expel transgender or other 'transgressive' people – or better still, to deter them from 'coming out' in the first place."

The strictly-Orthodox community in London appears to generate negative publicity from time to time.  The reasons for the coverage is unclear.  They are undoubtedly a private community and some of the coverage appears to be generated by those who leave the community and who wish to point out what they say are the failings and strictures within it.  Some of that, no doubt, relates to a discomfort in the perceived insularity of the adherents to the tenets of the strictly-orthodox tradition. Most of that coverage goes unanswered on behalf of the community. 

What the cases are about
Her Honour Judge Harris described the context of life within the strictly-orthodox community as follows: "The Haredi community practises a form of ultra-orthodox Judaism.  Its set of beliefs are accurately described as a way of life, and infuse every aspect of an individual's personal, family, social, and spiritual life" [Paragraph 6]. Peter Jackson J said Charedi "describes a number of groups within Orthodox Judaism characterised by strict adherence to Jewish law and distancing from modern secular culture. Members are sometimes referred to as Chassidic, strictly Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox. There are about 50,000 Charedim in the United Kingdom, mainly congregating in North London, North Manchester and Gateshead."

While there is a growing body of jurisprudence in this area, the scale of private law cases involving parental disputes resulting from one parent deciding to depart life in the community is relatively modest.  According to Rabbi Avraham Pinter, a former Labour Councillor for Hackney and leading member of the Stamford Hill community, approximately 28,000 people live in the community in Stamford Hill.  Of that number, 65 people have been assisted with leaving the community.  While some have left no more than their faith behind, for those who are parents the ramifications of their departure are more complicated, as the case law attests. 

Cases involving four such families have been reported in the law reports – one at Court of Appeal level – Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677; the case which came before Peter Jackson J from the Family Division; a series of three judgments from Her Honour Judge Rowe QC dealing with two children: Re X (Number 1 : Religious Differences : Schools) [2014] EWFC B230 (4 November 2014); Re X (Number 2 : Orthodox Schools) [2015] EWFC B237 (9 May 2015) and Re X (Number 3 : Division of Religious Festivals) [2015] EWFC B91 (12 October 2016) and a decision of Her Honour Judge Harris dealing with just one of a couple's four children Re C (Prohibited Steps Order) [2016] EWFC B97 (25 August 2016).

Notably, this last decision was presented in the media as being in some way unreasonable: "Judge says Jewish father 'unwise' to take children to museum because they could learn about evolution" from the Independent and "Jewish father who let children ride bikes on Sabbath exposed them to 'alien way of life', ultra-orthodox wife claims" from the Telegraph.  This, despite the careful and clear analysis of the best interests of the subject child and the cross weave of welfare issues with which the judge had had to grapple.

The judgment reflects the difficulties encountered when a member of a community who has children decides to leave.  For them, in order to have an ongoing relationship with the departed parent, any child has to begin to negotiate that parent's whole new world while the parent who remains has to accommodate themselves to the notion that their child, acculturated to the world inside the community, will be exposed to new and unfamiliar experiences and a different modus vivendi.

All four couples in the reported cases had been born and brought up in the Hassidic community.   The shared basis on which they had their children was that they would live in the community or in a similar community; their children would be brought up in the same manner as their own upbringing; and they would be educated in the community.  The tensions arose when that parental vision was no longer shared.  This change in parental thinking tends to focus on schooling since education is key to a child's continuing integration within the Hassidic community.  Schools within the community support the children's lifestyles in every way – their lives between home and school appear to be seamless – each supporting the other and being consistent with one another.  This contrasts with those children going to school outside of the community where, even in a Modern Orthodox setting, they may have open access to information that is anathema to the strictly-orthodox community's way of being.

Re G
The mother in Re G had been the main carer for her children.  Disillusioned with life as a Hassidic Jew and after having her third child, she decided to leave the community, taking the children with her.  She remained part of the Modern Orthodox community, but was no longer a practising strictly-orthodox Jew. 

The mother wished the children to remain living with her, to have them educated in a school of her choice and to have contact with their father.  She wanted her children to attend Modern Orthodox schools (in line with her chosen mode of life), so that they could maximise their educational opportunities. The father sought shared residence of the children and considered that they should be educated in single-sex schools which were run in accordance with the rules and practices of his community.

The judge at first instance, HHJ Copley in Willesden County Court, found that the children should live with their mother and that they should attend the schools of her choosing rather than attend schools in the community.  He ordered extensive contact with their father.  The mother was supported by the Cafcass officer.  The father's appeal against that decision was unsuccessful with Munby LJ being clear that "Far from being plainly wrong, His Honour Judge Copley was, as it seems to me, in all probability right in the decision to which he came.  I suspect that, had I been in his position, having heard all the evidence he heard, I would have come to precisely the same conclusion." 

In Re G Munby LJ acknowledged that the issue before the court at first instance and the Court of Appeal was of "transcendental importance not merely to the father, the mother and the children but also to the Heredi community and, for reasons I will come to, the larger society of which it forms part"[Para 16].  Agreeing with Hughes LJ who had granted permission for the appeal, he endorsed the observation that the issues at stake were "not simply a matter of choice of school but a much more fundamental one of way of life. 'Lifestyle' scarcely does the issue justice. It is a matter of the rules for living." [Para 19].

Having so stated, in arriving at the decision not to allow the father's appeal in relation to the specific issue of the children's schooling, Munby LJ placed a great deal of weight on the issue of opportunities that he considered would be lost to the children if they attended community schools and would be gained by them receiving "the much fuller more rounded and much more extensive education that is available to them at the schools that the mother proposes" [Para 73]. He endorsed the finding that "…the schools to which [the mother] wishes to send them will provide infinitely superior opportunities for these children to gain a much fuller and wider education, not only at secondary level but also at tertiary level should they choose that …and thereafter they will have much greater job opportunities" [Para 74].

However, it is important in understanding the more recent decisions to consider that, in approving of the approach of the judge at first instance Munby LJ reiterated that His Honour Judge Copley "had to take into account the present reality that, following the parental separation in October 2010, the children had not been following an exclusively Heredi way of life. When with their mother they were inevitably exposed to her significantly less strict form of observance. So already, and in significant part, what the father would have wanted for his children, was simply not possible. But the father's case was, of course, and correctly, that one must not overstate the significance of what had happened. If the children continued within the Heredi educational system they would have less – very much less – exposure to the non-Heredi way of life than if they were educated in the way the mother wanted" [Para 78].

The Re X cases
The series of Re X cases are useful as they chart the journey travelled by the young separated parents, both from the Satmar sect, and their children who, for most of their lives, have had to traverse the distance between the vastly different worlds of their parents – the Hassidic world that their mother, their friends and relatives inhabit and the more secular world in which their father and his friends live.

When the case first came before Her Honour Judge Rowe in 2014, the parents were agreed that the children should live with their mother in the community but there was a dispute between them as to which school they should attend – the father contending that they should attend less orthodox schools outside of the community; their mother contending that they should remain in a community school.  In deciding the issue relating to schools, the judge expressed her view that ``… the first consideration has to be given to their school experience remaining as close as possible to their life outside school. The children must be able to make friendships within their community and to have a religious education that their community will accept. [X school] is simply too modern a school for these children. The school is mixed, which is anathema for the mother's community.

"[X school] is a world away from the everyday lives of these two very young children. They would be likely to find the experience very difficult and very confusing, and there is a very real risk that they would no longer be welcome friends and playmates to other children within the community from which they would come and to which they would return each day. Their mother would find it difficult if not impossible to support the children at the school" [Paragraphs 48-49]. 

Therefore, while in Re G, having decided that the children should reside with their mother with whom they had been living and in whose care they had already experienced a less strict way of life,  the court decided that the Modern Orthodox school reflected the environment which the children were to continue to experience on a day-to-day basis in the care of their mother,  in Re X (Number 1 : Religious Differences : Schools) the children were, by agreement, to remain living with their mother within the Satmar community.

In Re X (Number 2: Religious Differences: Schools), the second instalment of that case (five months after the first), the father amended his application to ask the court to change the children's school from the Satmar school they were attending to a Lubavitch school.  Both schools were within walking distance of the children's home with their mother but the Lubavitch School was run by a different and distinct Hassidic sect. 

Rejecting the father's application, the court accepted the recommendation of the child and adolescent psychiatrist (Dr Asen) and of the children's guardian.  Her Honour Judge Rowe QC said this:

"[C]hildren need a school where they can learn. It is common ground that the children will benefit by learning both religious and secular studies. They need an educational environment that their parents can both support. I accept Dr Asen's evidence that they need a school where their experience is consistent with that in their main home. I accept the evidence of the guardian that if the children grow securely embedded in their community with their mother then they will be better able to understand and come to play a part in their father's world."

The judge accepted Dr Asen's evidence that the children would be "at risk of emotional harm if any experience, including their educational experience, leads to their exclusion from or marginalisation within their community. I also accept the whole tenor of his evidence that they are also at risk of emotional harm if their home and school life leads to the marginalisation of or exclusion from their lives of their much loved father." The judge was clear that, if either parent failed in managing the change for the children or in supporting them through change, they would "suffer a cognitive dissonance. They will be confused and anxious, which will be emotionally harmful to them"  [Para 61].

In the third instalment of this case in October 2016, the court was dealing with the issue of what proportion of religious festivals the children should be spending with each of their parents.  The mother continued to worry that the father was not observing fundamental rules when the children spent the Sabbath with him.  The father's case was that he had become very settled and involved with an observant orthodox community in a different part of London.  The father's position was accepted by the court as being his new reality.  He was, so the judge considered: "far calmer and more at peace with himself than he was in the quite fraught proceedings of 2015. Then he seemed quite rootless, he had a strident air that was no longer apparent over the three days I saw and heard him in court. He was at odds with his family. By contrast now he is a member of one local Jewish Community and has links with another. He celebrates Sabbath with other families in the community on occasions whether the children are with him or not. He and the children celebrate together with those families. Centrally, the father has made peace with his father. He told me about the trip to Jerusalem this summer and spoke movingly of how he, his father and A studied together in a way which the father thought had helped A to harmonise his mother's and father's worlds. He will happily return for visits when he has enough money to be able to do so…..I gained the clear impression that he was more at ease with the need to introduce any changes only at the children's pace." [Paragraphs 31 and 39]

Her Honour Judge Rowe QC found that the mother continued to struggle to trust the father.  She said that the mother "must understand that these children will always be living a life that is different from that of their peers, however sensitive and careful the father is to minimise the differences at this stage. Her task is to support them in understanding the differences rather than to be threatened by them. She must understand that cutting out the father is not an option that the court could support. She must further understand that it is in the children's interests to grow with an awareness of the lives of both of their parents" [Paragraph 55].

Re C (Prohibited Steps Order) 
Re C (Prohibited Steps Order) involved a family with which HHJ Altman had been dealing for a couple of years before he retired.  Although his judgments were not published, reference is made to parts of them within the judgment of HHJ Harris from August last year. 

In that case, the mother and father had lived their entire lives in the Hassidic community in London.  The father had a successful business.  The mother obtained an Open University degree whilst bringing up her family of four children – two boys and two girls.  Dissatisfied with her lot the mother left home, initially taking the two girls with her (then aged 4 and 9). The two boys were left with their father. 

Prior to leaving the community the mother had formed a new relationship and, by the time of the proceedings, was sharing her life and her home with a man to whom she was not married. The mother had felt that some elements of the community had been unaccepting of, and unkind to, her when she had decided to leave.  She had become alienated from her parents and extended family.  In due course her perceptions of the strictly-orthodox community led her to become an active member of Gesher EU. That organisation is one whose stated aim is to support members of the Hassidic community who wish to leave or who have left the Hassidic community.  Their website states: "We help Jewish individuals living in the UK or elsewhere in the EU who have taken the decision to explore living beyond their present Ultra-Orthodox community." The group is often pitted against the community in media reports.

In time, the older girl began to have more contact with her father and eventually chose to return to the community and to live with her father. The youngest child continued to see her mother and to divide her time between her parents' two homes. 

Earlier litigation had dealt with the issue of the youngest child's schooling (with a decision that she should continue to attend a school within the community) and that she should continue to eat kosher food (as opposed to the stricter Kedassia certified kosher food favoured by her father).  

The litigation continued to involve the two girls and, in due course, just the youngest.  By the time of the last hearing the three older siblings were estranged from their mother with only the youngest of the children still connected to her.

Her Honour Judge Harris was allocated the case when the father returned the matter to court asserting that the mother was, by her deliberate flouting of basic rules of Hassidic living – observance of the Sabbath, maintaining modesty and eating kosher food – causing the child confusion and emotional damage.  In the course of the proceedings, at an interim stage, the mother had given undertakings to the court to last until the final hearing that she would ensure (amongst other things) that the child ate kosher food and that she observed the Sabbath within her household when the child was spending time with her.  The father, doubtful of her commitment, was asking that the child should spend all Sabbaths and religious festivals in the strictly-orthodox community and in his care.  He offered compensatory contact instead of alternate Sabbaths, which the mother had been having with the child. 

At the final hearing, the mother accepted that she had not been observing the Sabbath and had been allowing the child to eat non-kosher food including taking her to McDonalds (this last point was ultimately the aspect of the case upon which the national press reported at the time the case went on Bailli, with the caption in the Sun summarising the prevailing sentiment – "NOT LOVING IT").  Again, the press coverage was particularly blunt and insensitive to the facts.  

Her Honour Judge Harris assessed the parents' evidence observing that the father was loving and committed and that he did not display the rigidity of thinking that she had "come across in others with religious beliefs, of whatever faith, at the most orthodox end of the spectrum."  She found the mother to be intelligent and articulate.  She bore the vulnerability of having come out of the community to make a new life.  The judge found her to be dignified and did not consider her to be untruthful.  However, the judgment observes that "she does tend to interpret events from her own particular perspective". 

The judgment continues:

"I regret, I have to say, that the mother has displayed poor judgment and insight on occasions.  Whilst she is, of course, free to change her religious practices, she has imposed these changes on C with apparently little thought as to how that might impact on C in the community.…She also, in my view, has a tendency to ascribe to C, views which are, in reality, her own.  This was also the view of C's guardian.  This is either self-deception or an inability to accept responsibility for her actions….There is a tendency also to seek to justify her behaviours as being in C's welfare interests.  It seems to me that much of what she seeks to justify is because she wishes to live her own life in a certain way.  It is also clear, as I have already said, that, having given agreements to the court, she never intended to adhere to most of them.…I am concerned that she is, on occasions, prioritising her own needs before C's welfare, and perhaps sees herself as a standard-bearer for those who have left the community" [Paragraphs 55 to 67].

At the start of the final hearing, the mother agreed that the child should no longer spend any Sabbaths with her (other than during longer holidays).  She resisted any order that she should have to feed the child kosher food.  She denied that she had imposed her views on the child and maintained that the views were the child's; that the breaches of undertakings whereby she did not observe the Sabbath were, she asserted, because her daughter did not want her to do so.  She maintained that all of her actions were in line with her daughter's wishes and feelings. 

The father's case was that the lifestyle the mother was leading when their daughter was in her care was causing her emotional damage because she had been confused and, although she enjoyed some of the activities when she was with her mother, she returned to his care and to school with feelings of guilt.  He was concerned that, whereas she used to discuss that confusion and guilt with him, she had stopped doing so and was keeping it inside.  He was also concerned that she was being involved by her mother in adult issues and arrangements. 

The father sought a number of orders, some of which the judge refused, including that the child should only attend single-sex gymnastics classes, and should not be watching television when she was with her mother.  However, the judge, following the advice of the guardian, did agree that there was a need for orders in relation to ensuring that the mother honoured the fundamental tenets of the orthodox observance (i.e. of eating kosher food and observing the Sabbath) when the child was with her.  She imposed orders to that effect [paras 85 to 102]. 

In analysing the welfare needs of the child and the need for her to integrate the experiences of living in part in the worlds of each of her parents, like Her Honour Judge Rowe QC in the Re X series of cases before her, Her Honour Judge Harris stated that "the mother needs to adhere to what C experiences in her own community, to smooth the transition, and to prevent her from suffering further emotional harm…".  In relation to eating kosher food, HHJ Harris said: "… I am quite clear that an order is necessary, so that there can be no ambiguity about the need for compliance with this extremely important matter…I regard it as a necessary interference with the mother's family life in order to protect C's overriding welfare. [Paragraphs 75 & 81].

This is entirely consistent with the rationale of Peter Jackson J in J v B and The Children when concluding that there should be no direct contact between the transgendered father and the children: "And here we come to the sad reality. I can see no way in which the children could escape the adult reaction to them enjoying anything like an ordinary relationship with their father. In the final analysis, the gulf between these parents – the mother within the ultra?Orthodox community and the father as a transgender person – is too wide for the children to bridge. They would be taught one thing in their daily lives and asked to do the opposite on repeated, conspicuous forays into the outside world, which they would have to keep quiet about afterwards." [Para 81]

The question of exclusion from the Hassidic community
HHJ Harris refers in her judgment to an earlier finding by His Honour Judge Altman that the mother had asserted and the court had accepted that she had been treated "very badly by community members, and indeed ostracised by them" in the aftermath of leaving the family home [para 7].  There was no suggestion that the child had been treated badly by the community. 

It was a feature of Dr Asen's evidence in Re X (Number 2 : Orthodox Schools) before  HHJ Rowe QC, that there was a risk that the children would be ostracised by the strictly-orthodox community and it was obviously a fear held by the mother in that case.  However, a witness from Gesher EU, called on behalf of the father, told Peter Jackson J in J v B and The Children that, in fact, and in spite of the mother's predictions, there had been no attempt to ostracise the family in the Re X cases with which he had an ongoing familiarity. 

In J v B and The Children the mother openly stated that the father himself had been "severely ostracised" [Para 73].  However, it was the question as to whether the children would be shunned or face rejection if they had direct contact with their father which became the focus of much of the evidence.  Thus, whereas there has been discussion in other such cases of the impact of stepping outside the world of the community (for education, in particular) upon the social standing of the children amongst their own, this was at a more profound and fundamental level.  For it was the mother's position that she opposed direct contact of any kind during the children's childhoods "as that, she claims, will lead to the children and herself being ostracised by the community to the extent that they may have to leave it" [Para 9].

The mother was supported in her contentions by witnesses who were leaders and members of the strictly-orthodox community.   In relation to that evidence Peter Jackson J recorded: "Rabbi Oppenheimer remarked that "ostracise" was perhaps not the best word to use for a process that would not be organised but more subtle and inevitable – "it would be so much more"." [Para 96].  In that context, the judge also heard evidence of other behaviour by the Manchester Hassidic community about ways in which people, who were perceived as "different", were not treated well by the community.

Interestingly, it was from the father and his witness from Gesher EU that a more open picture appeared to emerge.  This seemed to challenge the mother's assertions about the fear that the children would encounter certain rejection. For, it was the father who, when asked about the threat of ostracism, stated that "the situation had never happened before but she thought that the community followed the law and would probably not disobey rules."

In addition, his witness from Gesher EU eventually accepted during his evidence that, although the ostracisation argument had been deployed accepted by HHJ Rowe QC in the Re X cases, in reality, the children and their mother had never in fact been rejected or ostracised.  The father's team argued that fear of ostracisation was merely a scare tactic on the part of the mother and the orthodox Jewish community to deny the father the contact to which her children were entitled.  The court heard conflicting evidence from Rabbis from within the Community about the likely attitude of the community towards the children and their mother if contact were allowed [paras 81 and 82].  

Peter Jackson J set out the argument on the father's behalf as follows: "Ms Ball and Ms Mann submit that the balance to be struck is between harm that the children will suffer (through loss of contact) and harm that they may suffer (through ostracism). As to the latter, they rely on the evidence of Rabbi Abel and Mr Bernard. They suggest that the mother's witnesses are over?egging the pudding, and that the court should not assume the worst. They point to the outcomes in Re X and the case of Mr and Mrs S2. The cases of Child A and Child B revolved around issues of sex, not of gender"" [Para 174].

Rabbi Abel "accepted that the present circumstances would be a challenge to the insular North Manchester community. He argued that when it comes to matters of life and death, you have to break free and seek to work with the unfamiliar problem. He gave as an example creative arrangements that might be made to allow the father to participate in A's bar mitzvah. There are ways, and it can happen if there is a will. The issues are significant, but not insurmountable. The community is not monolithic, but multifarious. It will step back if proper arrangements are made by both parents. If the situation is unregulated, the community will take matters into its own hands. If direct contact was ordered, and the law laid down, he did not think that the community would "go to the wire" fighting an unwinnable battle." [Para 83].

The guardian struggled with her recommendation but ultimately concluded there should be no direct contact, weighing two significant factors "1) the risk that the children would be ostracised and placed in conflict with their identity as members of the community; and (2) some continuing concerns about the father's insight and ability to prioritise the emotional needs of the children and engage in the advice that would be offered." [Para 132].  She was clearly of the view that the risks of the family unit consisting of the mother and children being cast out by the community were real.

Clearly, in this case, and with reluctance and regret, Peter Jackson J preferred the evidence adduced on behalf of the mother in reaching his conclusion. In line with the guardian's observations the court also found, in relation to the father, that: "There was undoubtedly an element of fragility and a certain anguished self?absorption in the father's presentation. This is entirely in keeping with her situation, but it is relevant to the children's welfare" [Para 68].  He also found, like the professionals in the case that "the father's approach to contact would not be a reliable, static factor. It would be a variable amongst other variables…this must be taken into account when considering children's welfare.  It speaks for caution, but no more than that, and if it were the only obstacle to direct contact, it could probably be overcome" [Paragraph 172].

When asked about the case soon after judgment, Rabbi Pinter told the Jewish Chronicle:

"The community should be compassionate and accepting, and never ostracise a child…That is an essential part of Yiddishkeit (translated as the quality of being a Jew/living a Jewish life), to show compassion in all circumstances, even challenging circumstances."

Though few in number, as has been indicated, these decisions have received considerable publicity. There are newspaper articles and radio programmes. The insular world of the strictly-orthodox community is not entirely insulated from the secular and less observant world.  As the words of Rabbi Pinter suggest and the observations of Rabbi Abel presage, there is a need for reflection and adjustment so that the interests of the children are the first consideration of all parties.

Conclusion
What is clear from the recently reported cases involving the strictly-orthodox communities is that the court is rightly determined to apply its usual welfare analysis despite the difficult issues raised by the cases.  Although the cases seem to present their own unique elements such as Hassidic life being a life-defining choice for those who are part of it and their religion being at the core of all aspects of their lives, courts are going about their welfare analysis in the usual way, applying the welfare checklist (as Peter Jackson J explicitly did) to all of the decisions that members and former members of the Hassidic community ask them to make: in one of the reported cases, the circuit judge found that the children, who had already left the community with their mother, should attend secular schools as, to do otherwise, might undermine their relationship with their mother, who was estranged from her family and community.  In the other cases, continued schooling within the community was found to be in those children's best interests. 

In J v B and The Children, the court concluded that, on analysing the best interests of the children, no contact should be ordered whereas, HHJ Rowe QC was clear that the father had a vital role to play in his children's lives even though the children would have to negotiate the very different worlds inhabited by each of their parents.  Each case is, like all cases, determined on its individual facts and in accordance with what the court considers to be in that child's best interests.  As Munby LJ said in Re G, the court was referred to R (A Minor) (Residence: Religion) [1993] 2 FLR 163 and the words of Purchas LJ, with whom Balcombe LJ agreed, (at 171): "It is no part of the court's function to comment upon the tenets, doctrines or rules of any particular section of society provided that these are legally and socially acceptable."  As always the lodestar of the court is the welfare of the children.


31/5/17