They married in 2000. Ten years later they separated.
He was Chareidi – she became, say, more modern. Both were British.
They had five children, ranging in age between 3 and 11. They lived with the mother after the separation, but the father remained very close to them and had extensive visitation. The children attended strictly separate schools until June of 2012, when the case cane before the judge.
Mom wanted sole custody. Dad wanted joint custody. But the mother also wanted to switch schools from a Chareidi school to a modern orthodox mixed gender school. The father was aghast and wanted the schools to remain the way they are.
The decision came in July. Judge Copley found with the mother and awarded her custody but with generous visitation for the father. The judge also gave the mother permission to switch the children to mixed gender schools in September (a month ago).
The father appealed to England’s Court of Appeal and lost.
Sir James Munby gave the ruling. He stated that the children’s education was an issue of transcendental importance not just to the parents and the children but also “to the Chareidi community and to the larger society of which it forms part.”
He explained in his ruling that he gave consideration to three factors:
(1) the history of and what is meant by the term, “a child’s welfare” in the Children Act 1989 and what yardstick should be used to assess this “welfare.”
(2) whether the mother’s arguments based on education should prevail over the father’s arguments based upon way of life; and
(3) what in today’s society is the task of the ordinary reasonable parent and what is the task of a judge acting as a “judicial reasonable parent.”
In answering these questions the Court of Appeal proposed three answers: firstly that equality of opportunity is a fundamental value of society; secondly that society fosters, encourages and facilitates aspiration; and thirdly that society’s objective must be to bring the child to adulthood in such a way that the child is best equipped both to decide what kind of life they want to lead and to give effect to their aspirations.
The Court found that the first judge’s reasoning, (Judge Copley) reasoning and decision was far from being plainly wrong and was in all probability right. HHJ Copley was entitled to conclude on the evidence that the mother’s chosen schools would provide better opportunities; that the Children’s Services officer’s analysis of the emotional impacts on the children and her assessment of which school environment would best enable religious choices to be made in later life was reliable; and that on balance the children’s best interests were best served by what the mother was proposing.
The repercussions of this ruling on British Chareidi families, and perhaps Chareidi families in other countries as well, are very serious in that if one spouse wishes to change schools to a more modern one, they will probably have the backing of the British court system.