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Sunday, August 17, 2014 

Former Haredis struggle for their parental rights

The Wall Street Journal wrote about divorcees in the Haredi world who find themselves up to their necks in legal red tape when they try to maintain custody of their children, or visitation rights. They're not entirely clear here about "orthodox" though, because most parents coming from non-Haredi society don't go through the exact problems Haredis can:
"From a religious perspective, certainly, there is a sense among Orthodox Jews that Jews are born with a special mission as God's chosen people," said Rabbi David Zwiebel, an attorney and executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, an organization representing devoutly Orthodox Jews. "When a person who has been raised in that tradition walks away, it is considered a tragic outcome."

Mr. Fisher's custody agreement allows him just a few hours with his five children on alternating Sundays.

"People who leave the religious community end up signing away their rights," said the 32-year-old Brooklyn-based accountant.

Such a scenario isn't unusual in the ultraorthodox world, said Chani Getter, program coordinator at Footsteps, a New York-based social-services group serving former ultra-Orthodox Jews. She helps parents navigate custody agreements in a newly launched program that offers case-management help, advice on parental rights, family support and legal advice through a partnership with the New York Legal Assistance Group.

Today, the program helps more than a dozen parents, but leaders say that number is growing as Footsteps does. In the last decade, some 900 former ultra-Orthodox Jews have participated in the group's educational, career, family and social programs.

[...] The typical custody-battle scenario, said Ms. Getter, involves a couple who married as teenagers, often through an arrangement, and quickly began a family.

But when one parent decides to leave the insular community—reasons vary from escaping abuse to wanting to attend college and pursue a career—the process tends to be extraordinarily difficult and emotional, said Ms. Getter. Transitioning into secular society can be particularly challenging, she said, since some ultra-Orthodox Jews have only a grade-school education and lack a mastery of English.

It is at that transitional moment when the harassment, intimidation and bullying can begin, said Ms. Getter and Fraidy Reiss, who founded and leads Unchained At Last, a New Jersey-based organization that provides legal services to women leaving arranged and forced marriages.

Grandparents often band together against the nonreligious parent, said Ms. Getter. And the wider community "will come out and raise money" so the spouse staying in the community can hire a lawyer, said Ms. Reiss.

Divorce decrees are often hastily drafted and pushed through a rabbinical court, said Ms. Getter, and often nonreligious parents don't know what they have signed—or don't care because they are so worn down.

"So many people are walking around with huge holes in their hearts," said Ms. Getter, who went through her own custody battle as she left the Hasidic community. "So many people stay because of the kids." [...]

"Divorce is the messiest business," Mr. Friedlander said. "I mean, after the Palestinian-Israeli [conflict], this is probably the messiest business."
I don't know if it's a good idea to bring that into the subject, but he's right that divorce for them is a very troubling issue when dealing with parental rights.
Mr. Fisher's case finally landed in civil court earlier this year when his originally-agreed-upon visitation terms were restricted even more, he said. Eric Thorsen, an attorney for Mr. Fisher's ex-wife, Toby Fisher-Altman, declined to comment on her behalf.

With the help of his attorney and the emotional support of other Footsteps members, Mr. Fisher said he is seeking more time with his children—something he didn't even know was legally possible based on state laws.

Back then, he said, "I didn't try to put up a fight."
But if he is now, that's good. Guys like him need to be informed that the Constitution is meant to defend his rights, and he doesn't have to base his legal wrangling on the Haredi community's MO alone, because some of them like the Satmar just don't represent real Judaism, or don't want to modify it to suit people better. It's about time that changed, but the Satmar can't be expected to do it with their insular customs.

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Thanks for your post, very informative...

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