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Cite as: [2015] EWFC B237

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Case No: FD13P01649

IN THE WEST LONDON FAMILY COURT

 

IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989

AND IN THE MATTER OF A (a boy) (5) AND B (a girl) (3)

See also:
X (Number 4: Religious Differences: Shared Care) [2019] EWFC B81 (11 September 2019)
X (Number 3 : Division of Religious Festivals) [2016] EWFC B91 (12 October 2016)
X (Number 1 : Religious Differences : Schools) [2014] EWFC B230 (4 November 2014)

Date: 9 May 2015

 

Before:

 

HER HONOUR JUDGE ROWE QC

_________________

 

BETWEEN:-

 

 

F

Applicant

 

 

And

 

 

 

M

First Respondent

 

 

And

 

 

 

A and B (through their Guardian)

2nd and 3rd Respondents

 

 

 

_________________

For father in person with two McKenze Friends
For mother Ruth Kirby (counsel) instructed by Guile Nicholas Solicitors
For children Deborah Marsden of Creightons Solicitors

_________________

 

JUDGMENT

 

The Application

  1. On 3 November 2014 I gave a lengthy judgment in respect of these two very young children A, aged 5, and B aged 3. I resolved issues of the division of the children's time between their parents, the manner in which the parents would manage the children's time with their father, and the schools the children should attend.
  2. Within weeks the case returned to court. The mother asserted that the father had failed my expectation in two ways, by talking inappropriately to the children about sex education and by talking to A about the theory of evolution, the belief in which is heretical in the Satmar world. At around the same time I was told that neither of the schools identified in my judgment had places for the children, although the father was sceptical about the reason for this in relation to the Y school for A. Nonetheless, this resurrected almost immediately the issue of schooling.
  3. In December 2014 the court joined the children as parties to the proceedings given the complexity of the issues, and appointed a Guardian for the children. The Guardian's focus has been on the issue of schooling.
  4. This will be my third detailed judgment in this case. There have been, in all, some 12 or 13 hearings thus far. I was not surprised to hear the Guardian submit that should further applications be made to court she will be inviting the court to consider making an order under s91(14) Children Act 1989 placing a restriction on further litigation. I share her concern, especially as this is a case where the fundamental issues between these parents are not easily amenable to the blunt instrument of court orders. I share the optimism expressed by all during the hearing that whatever orders I make, the best way to help the parents to support the children is through further sessions with Dr Asen, the Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist instructed to assist in this case.

The issues and the position of the parties

  1. The issues before me at this hearing, are as follows:-
    1. There are factual issues between the parents in relation to instances of alleged failure by the father to keep to the expectations in my last judgment. The mother asks me to make findings on at least some of those allegations. The father is unrepresented, but to the extent that I do feel findings to be necessary, I have his factual evidence largely denying the mother's case;
    2. The mother asks me to revisit my decision about the manner in which the father manages the children's time with him. She continues to wish him to commit to providing the children with a full Satmar experience when they are with him, and she seeks to achieve this either by formal commitments from the father or by a defined court order. The father continues to assert that he will respect the children's Satmar life but that it is unreasonable for him to have to replicate it with the children, that that course has the potential for the children to feel that he has tricked them as they grow in understanding and learn that he has rejected that way of life for himself, and he feels that it would be enriching for the children to be more openly exposed to his chosen way of life so that they grow with an understanding of both worlds;
    3. The division of the children's time is actually working well, with both children now spending overnight with their father fortnightly. Just before this hearing they spent their first Sabbath with him. The only variation here is that the father wishes to return the children at 7pm rather than 5pm at the end of their weekend visits to him. The mother feels that that is too late for the children;
    4. Schools. The mother wishes for both children to attend the B school, the boys' and girls' school respectively; this is not the school that she proposed for B last time. The father wishes both children to attend the L boys' and girls' schools. I decided in November that L was the right option for B, and there is now a place at L available for both children. The Guardian supports the mother's choice of Satmar schools.

The chronology

  1. For the relevant history, I refer to my Judgment of 2 July 2014, in particular paragraphs 1, 2, 11 to 18 and 23 to 24, and to my Judgment of 3 November 2014 in particular paragraphs 14 to 16.
  2. On 15 December 2014, just 6 weeks after my judgment, the mother applied to court for directions. Her position statement asserted that "the father taught A elements of sex education. This is completely contrary to the approach of home, community and school regarding such matters and could have far reaching consequences for A". The father denied this, asserting that he had merely answered in an age appropriate way a question from A asking where babies come from.
  3. The mother had, based on this issue, refused contact on 5 and 11 December, instead offering the father supervised contact only. At the hearing on 15 December I made it clear that the child arrangements order was to be complied with unless varied by the court, and that the children must see their father as directed. The mother made the children available for additional periods and the children's visits to their father have resumed and continued without further interruption.
  4. On 15 December the children were joined as parties to the proceedings. The court and advocates recognised the complexity of the issues arising from the differences in the parties' way of life, and the risk of the difficulties in the case becoming entrenched with the children being forced into an unwelcome, unnecessary and plainly harmful choice between their parents.
  5. By the next directions hearing on 13 January 2015, the difficulty with the schools identified in my November Judgment had become apparent. The father cited continuing difficulties in securing any direct communication with Y, and he asserted that L girls' school withdrew its offer of a place to B after direct communication with the school by a Mr L, described by the father as "a community activist who has attended every hearing in this case" to support the mother. The father had by this stage issued a cross application for a change of residence.
  6. The court was, further, told that the father had reported A's school to the police saying that A had reported being hit by a teacher. I was told that the mother was not consulted about this complaint in advance, and that the police had spoken to A and also had visited the school. It subsequently transpired that the father had taped an interview with A about the allegation, and the transcript of that interview appears in the bundle.
  7. The court gave directions, including directions for disclosure of the police investigation of the father's complaint, and timetabled to this final hearing.
  8. Shortly after, by consent and without a hearing, the court granted the Guardian's Part 25 application for permission to instruct Dr Asen to advise on issues arising in the case.
  9. The mother subsequently asserted in her written evidence that on around 10/11 January 2015 A told her that the father had shown the children a book showing how monkeys evolved into humans. As I have already said, belief in the theory of evolution is heretical to the Satmar so that repeating such a belief could have significant consequences for A within his community. The mother reports that A was confused and upset at this exchange. On that same visit the mother also reports that A said his father left him and B alone for some period of time.
  10. An issue next arose when the mother wished to take the children to Israel over Passover. Initially the father refused permission asserting a fear that the mother might remain in Israel with the children. In the event he consented on terms, and the children went on that 10 day trip, returning as scheduled.
  11. Dr Asen reported on 1 April 2015. Dr Asen found both children to be " delightful children" with " good and secure attachments to each parent". Both parents have " excellent parenting skills". Dr Asen said that

"... the proposed contact levels and the children's continuing residence with their mother do meet the children's needs in the short and medium term. As to whether these family arrangements will meet [their] long-term needs, much will depend on whether their parents are going to be able to agree on and establish mutually acceptable arrangements, taking into account that the father and the mother have very different beliefs and life styles".

  1. Dr Asen stressed the need for both parents to work together to help the children to live in both of their parents' worlds. He emphasised that if either parent were unable or unwilling to stick to agreements over the children's arrangements, then the children would suffer emotional harm. Dr Asen described his work with the parents, which has produced agreement on key issues such as arrangements for the children when they are with their father for the Sabbath, and he expressed a commitment to continuing this work with them. They will of course need to fund the work.
  2. Finally, just before the hearing began, the father gave the mother the Get. As is clear from my previous judgments this had been an issue between the parents from the start of the proceedings, though not one within the court's jurisdiction. The mother characterised the father as cruel for withholding the Get especially given that it was he who had elected to end the marriage. The father cited practical problems with giving the Get but, it seemed to me, had deliberately withheld the Get at least until arrangements for the children were concluded as he felt that it gave him some leverage against the overwhelming weight of the Satmar Community who support the mother and who see him as a Renegade Jew.

This hearing

  1. The hearing lasted over all or part each of four days starting on 20 April 2015. The mother was represented by counsel. The father was assisted by two McKenzie Friends.
  2. The mother was assisted by Mrs F, the same Yiddish interpreter who has assisted her throughout. The father expressed a concern at some of the interpretation, the interpreter being part of the mother's "team" rather than an independent interpreter, and so I agreed that the court appointed interpreter could remain to assist in the event of disagreement over interpretation. In the event there was no such disagreement at any point in the proceedings, though the interpreters conferred and helped each other on some slightly more difficult pieces of interpretation.
  3. I read the relevant documents. These include a Bundle containing Ofsted reports and other material about the schools put forward by the parents.
  4. I heard the oral evidence of
    1. The father;
    2. Dr Asen;
    3. Dayan Lichtenstein;
    4. The mother, who gave evidence in Yiddish assisted by her interpreter;
    5. the Guardian.

The law

  1. In my Judgment of 3 November 2014 at paragraphs 19 and 20 I referred to the legal principles at play in this case. Those principles continue to apply. In addition, the mother's counsel Miss Kirby has identified the further relevant case of Re T (Minors)(Custody: Religious Upbringing) [1981] 2 FLR 239 where, at 248, Scarman LJ said this:-

"...when one has, as we have here, two good parents, indeed two unimpeachable parents, each of them following very different ways of life, which have led to the matrimonial breakdown, it does not follow that, because one parent's way of life is more acceptable to most of us, it is contrary to the welfare of the children that they should adopt the way of life of the other parent that is acceptable only to a minority, and a tiny minority at that....it seems to me that when one has, as in this case, such a conflict, all that the court can do is to look at the detail of the whole circumstances of the parents and determine where lies the true interest of the children".

  1. An issue I raised at the start of the hearing, certainly in relation to the school for B, is that I have made a decision already, the school that I identified for B is now offering a place, and I am not an appellate court. I will address this issue later in the Judgment, but consider that in order to resolve the issues now before me I must start with my November Judgment, and then consider whether there is relevant new evidence and any relevant change of circumstances. No specific legal submissions have been made to me on this point.
  2. I am now asked by the mother to make certain findings of fact. In respect of any findings that I adjudge relevant to the issues before me, the burden of proving the facts is on the mother, and the court can only make findings if satisfied of the relevant facts on the balance of probability.
  3. Finally, whilst I am not asked to consider at this hearing an order under s91(14) Children Act 1989 the Guardian has indicated that she is likely to raise this in the event that either parent seeks to return the case to court, especially in relation to education. I need not consider the relevant principles in detail for the purposes of this hearing. Both parties must understand, however, the importance of an end to litigation and the concern that the court would share should the case come back to court again on issues that have been resolved in this or previous judgments

 

Overview revisited

  1. In paragraphs 21 to 26 of the November judgment I gave an overview of the case as I evaluated it at that time. I identified the great divide over which these parents must try and come together. That divide remains. I summarised my observations about the parents. I am afraid that for the detailed reasons set out later in this judgment, I have less confidence than I did in November in the father's ability to stop himself from exposing the children to different experiences, experiences which he values and wishes to share with the children but which carry the risks of confusion and difficulty that I identified in my judgment. I have not altered my assessment that these are two loving young parents who want the best for their much loved children. The intervening months have, however, demonstrated the pitfalls which both parents will have to continue to negotiate in the months and years to come. This is a process to which both parents must be committed, even though it will continue to bring real difficulties for both of them.

 

Some factual issues to resolve

  1. The findings sought by the mother are
    1. That the father spoke to the children about apes and men in a way suggestive of a discussion of the theory of evolution;
    2. That the father spoke inappropriately to A about sex, in particular (i) saying that babies grow in the mother's tummy and (ii) that mothers and fathers go to bed together;
    3. That the father combed A's curls on the Sabbath visit despite knowing that this was impermissible;
    4. That the father has allowed the children to watch television on a number of occasions since the last judgment;
    5. That the father left the children home alone on one occasion;
    6. That the father encouraged A to tell the teacher that he cannot smack A and that the father inappropriately interviewed A in the course of the investigation.
  2. I accept that at least most of these factual issues are relevant to my decision-making because they inform my assessment of the ability of each of the parents to support the children's relationship with the other.
  3. I will start with my overall assessment of the credibility of the parents.
  4. In most cases it is helpful to start with a general evaluation of the credibility of the parents. In this case I find that both parents are essentially honest witnesses, however the evidence of each is affected by a profound fear of the loss of their children to the influence of the other. The father fears the weight of the community against him and the consequent loss of the children into the community, and the mother fears the impact on the children of exposure to the outside secular, fundamentally different world which might influence the children away from Satmar and from her. The result is that both parents are riven with suspicion and hostility which gives rise to a degree of misinterpretation of things that happen, and a profound lack of mutual trust. This dynamic impacts, at times, on the evidence of both parents.
  5. I turn now, briefly, to consider the specific findings:-

 

That the father spoke to the children about apes and men in a way suggestive of a discussion of the theory of evolution ;

  1. The mother's written evidence is that around 10/11 January 2015, A told her that the father showed the children a book depicting how monkeys evolved into humans. He further told her that when A challenged his father he was verbally chastised by a friend of the father's called Uncle D. In her statement the mother said that A came home "thoroughly confused and very bothered by this incident". In her oral evidence she told me that A came home from his father and said "mummy is it true that from people come monkeys; father showed be a book and said it is true people became monkeys". She said "A seemed very relaxed" but that "I put my foot down and said it is not true".
  2. The father said in his statement that he and the children were visiting a Museum where there were paintings on the wall of monkeys walking on two legs with faces similar to men. The father said that he told A what he had been taught in Satmar as a child, that some sinful humans who were involved in building the Tower of Babel became monkeys. The mother disputed that this was taught in the Satmar Community.
  3. With this as with the other matters on which I am now asked to make findings, the evidence is less than satisfactory. There is no written schedule of findings, the mother's first statement did not set out in terms her allegation. Her oral evidence was very different to her written evidence, both in terms of what she said A had said and in terms of how she said he responded. In her statement she said he was "thoroughly confused and upset" whereas in her oral evidence she said he was "very relaxed".
  4. I accept the father's account that he told A about people becoming monkeys. This is what he said in his written and oral evidence and it is what the mother herself said in oral evidence. I would add three things.
    1. Firstly, this is in fact the direct opposite to the theory of evolution; I do not find that the father was deliberately attempting to teach A about the theory of Evolution, and I accept his evidence that "I would not want my children to be heretics".
    2. Secondly, however, given the Satmar approach to that theory, it seems to me to have been unwise of the father to take the children to a Museum which exhibits pictures which appear - or may be taken - to depict extracts from that very theory. In his closing submissions the father says "I do not accept that showing them children's story books or pictures on the wall, with pictures of monkeys with human faces or standing upright is teaching evolution". That is a nave statement: such pictures are likely to represent the evolution theory and they are likely to prompt these bright young children to ask questions which, if answered honestly, would involve some explanation of that theory. This assertion of the father does not demonstrate his full acceptance of the principle that these children should only be exposed to experiences in his world at a slow and sensitive pace.
    3. Third and finally I am troubled at the difference between the mother's oral evidence that A was very relaxed - which evidence I accept - and the written statement which gives a very different picture. This tells me that some of the evidence I have heard about the children's alleged reactions to these matters reflected the concern and confusion of the mother rather than of the children. The fact that A was relaxed about receiving information from his father does not, however, remove the risk that unbeknownst to A, repeating the information could impact adversely on him within his school and friendship group.

That the father spoke inappropriately to A about sex, in particular (i) saying that babies grow in the mother's tummy and (ii) that mothers and fathers go to bed together ;

  1. The context for this issue is that as Dayan Lichtenstein told me, children in the Satmar community have no sex education certainly until they are very much older. Parents sleep in separate single beds, and they display no outward signs of physical affection towards each other.
  2. On 15 December 2014 the court was told that the father had "taught A elements of sex education". The mother's first statement did not set out what it was the father was alleged to have said, saying only that the father has "introduced the idea of basic sex education". She did not set out her case in the second statement either. In oral evidence she told me that "on the same day as contact or a day later I walked on the street with A..he said mummy is it true that a baby is in mummy's tummy?" The mother said that she was shocked and thinking what to answer. She said that A went on to say that "is it true that one goes into bed and then happens a baby?" The mother said she was too shocked and uncomfortable even to put this into her statement.
  3. The mother's solicitors plainly emailed the father about this allegation somewhere on or before 5 December 2014, as the father's solicitors replied in the following terms by email on that date " A asked my client questions about where children come from. He was told in an age appropriate way that a mum and dad are needed to make babies and that the baby grows in the mummy's tummy. It was explained that our mutual clients will not be having any other children together because they now live separately." I have not seen the mother's solicitor's original email to the father.
  4. The father refers to extracts from two previous statements which are not in the bundle for his earlier accounts of what he says happened, as well as to the solicitors' email. In his statement of February 2015 he said that "I explained that babies grew in their mothers' stomachs". He repeated this account in his latest statement saying that when A asked an unsolicited question about where babies come from " I explained that "a mum and dad are needed to make babies" and that "the baby grows in the mummy's tummy". This then led to the question of whether his mother and myself would have more brothers and sisters. I explained to A that his parents would not be having any other children together because they now live separately." In oral evidence the father said that he felt it better to give A an honest answer, but that he did not tell A that he and the mother slept together or in the same bed.
  5. I find, as is accepted, that the father did tell A that babies grow in the mummy's tummy. I accept that this is far more likely to have been a response to a spontaneous question from A- a normal question asked by young children - than to have been raised out of the blue by the father. I accept that A asked whether his mummy and daddy would be having more children. I find, as the father accepts, that he said that a mummy and daddy are needed to make a baby. I accept the mother's evidence that A asked about the parents going to bed; I do not think she would have made this up, as she plainly found it difficult to talk about herself. In telling A as he did that the parents will have no more children as they do not live together I find that the father may at least have said that the parents do not sleep together, rather than live together as this could explain what A said.
  6. The father is well aware of the extreme sensitivity of this topic as he himself complains of the Satmar approach to sex education. Dayan Lichtenstein, in his evidence, said that he would have replied to A's first question to the effect that God puts the baby in the mummy's tummy, and so it is difficult to criticise the father for that answer even though the mother did so until hearing the Dayan's evidence. In going further, however, I find that the father was unwise; A is only 5 and could easily have been diverted with a more neutral answer to his questions. The father will know very well that in going further, even in talking of needing a mummy and a daddy to have a baby, he was going beyond the knowledge that A would be expected to have within the Community. I acknowledge the father's point that because the mother was not at that stage willing to discuss matters with him it was not possible to agree a script that both parents could follow when these questions arise. Hopefully Dr Asen can help with this for the future.

That the father combed A's curls on the Sabbath visit despite knowing that this was impermissible;

  1. The father accepts that he did this, saying that he had forgotten that it was unacceptable. The mother explained that in fact the father had asked, in one of the couple's sessions with Dr Asen in which they discussed the ground rules for this first Sabbath visit, whether it was acceptable to comb A's curls and the mother had explained that it was not. She is therefore very critical of the father for doing this, and since he himself grew in the Satmar world she does not accept that the father forgot that this is unacceptable.
  2. The father is rightly criticised for this. This visit was a very, very important visit indeed. For the full picture it is important to note that the visit went very well in the main, however although I do not find that the father deliberately combed A's hair in order to flout the Satmar laws I consider the father to have been careless about the issue. As a former Community member himself he knows very well what is and is not acceptable, and he also knows how important these rules are to Community members. Having actually asked Dr Asen whether or not he should do this, it is disappointing that this issue then arose. It indicates the father's continuing difficulty in accepting some of the Satmar strictures as sufficiently important to require him to follow them when the children are with him. Dr Asen had a critical view of this.

That the father has allowed the children to watch television on a number of occasions since the last judgment ;

  1. The father told me himself that he has done this. I have already referred to my previous judgment where I made it clear that this should not happen. Despite that, the father was unable in his evidence to see any difficulty about what he has been doing. He told me that from time to time he will show the children CBBC to settle them down, and he says that they become upset if he won't let them watch. He would like to continue to do this. The mother said that the father should read with the children and play with them as she does; he does not need to fall back on television. Her main concern is, of course, the fact that it is forbidden to Satmar children to watch television and that in reporting back what they have seen, the children will be setting themselves apart from their peer group in their community. Dayan Lichtenstein told me that for a child to come back to the Satmar community and say they have seen television is as if they reported that they had not eaten Kosher.
  2. I am very disappointed at the father's stance on this issue. He appears unable to see that the issue is not whether children's television is or is not harmful for children in general; it is that the father recognised the difficulties caused by showing television to these particular children, and he told me that he understood the need not to do so, at least for the time being. Ms Ionescu was very clear that the father should only introduce new experiences to the children slowly and sensitively, and she did not even include in that process experiences such as watching television which is forbidden in the Satmar world. Dr Asen was critical of this in his evidence and yet even having heard Dr Asen's evidence the father continued to assert the need to show the children television.

That the father left the children home alone on one occasion;

  1. The mother says that A told her that this had happened and that after she raised the issue in proceedings, A returned from visiting his father saying that he had been mistaken. The mother concludes from this that the allegation is true and that the father then put pressure on A to withdraw this allegation. The father denies that he left the children alone.
  2. I do not have enough evidence to make this finding. A is a very young boy. I am not clear his exact words or the context in which he said them. I do not accept that this loving father with his excellent parenting skills would leave these very young children on their own unless, for instance, he had literally forgotten a key in the door or something of that nature. He would be wise in the future to make extra sure that the children do not have the perception that he has left them alone. That perception alone would unsettle the children, and when conveyed to the mother it would cause her to worry unnecessarily.

That the father encouraged A to tell the teacher that he cannot smack A and that the father inappropriately interviewed A in the course of the investigation.

  1. The father's case is that A first told his father on 13 November 2014 that when a boy hit him at school, a teacher hit that boy. He said that he told A that teachers are not allowed to hit children, and that if they do then the police would be involved. The father says that A told him on 18 December 2014 that his teacher had hit him, and that A asked his father to tell the police. The father says that he told the mother about this on 21 December and that she did not take the allegation especially seriously though she spoke to the teacher; she thought little slaps were justified. The father says that he then recorded A's allegation and then, on the advice of his legal team and Cafcass, he reported the allegation to the police on 24 December 2014.
  2. The mother says that she knew nothing about the allegation until she received a phone call from the police. She also reports that over a few weeks before the allegation, A had been telling his teacher that his father had told him that he Awas not allowed to be hit at school.
  3. The father accepts, and I find, that the father did not tell the mother he was going to the police as he was worried she would tell the school. It is plain from his evidence, and I find, that he deeply distrusts the Satmar schools and he is convinced that they do apply corporal punishment, which is anathema to him. He is passionate about this and he presented a great deal of written evidence to the court on the subject. I cannot assess whether or not A was smacked by his teacher, however in two particular ways, the father was unwise in his reaction to this issue.
  4. I have read the recording of the father's interview of A. A then aged barely 5, was interviewed over eight and a half pages of transcript. He was plainly interviewed in B's presence, as the father is recorded telling B to be quiet, and B is recorded to be asking for her bottle which the father deflected until he had finished questioning A. The interview is full of leading questions put by the father. The father tells A to speak louder. I find that the father put inappropriate and relentless pressure on his little son in an interview that was totally inappropriate. Dr Asen, when expressing this view, said that he would hope to show the father through role play how A would have felt when being questioned.
  5. I further find that the father was wrong to involve the police without telling the mother. Not only did the police then speak to the mother but they also visited the school. This would have unsettled any parent and school let alone this mother and this school; I accept the mother's evidence that police involvement in the Satmar Community is rare and thus of greater significance. The father's case throughout has been that the teachers at A's school have refused to speak to him and to engage with him; in my last judgment I set out the CAFCASS officer's concern about that which I mirrored. It remains fundamental to my decision that any school attended by these children must engage equally with both of the parents. If they refuse to do so, then incidents such as this - when the father went straight to the police without first talking to the school - are more likely to occur.

 

The principles underpinning the father's time with the children

  1. I dealt at length with this issue at various parts of my November Judgment, and specifically in paragraphs 25, 42 to 44. I said " I accept that the father now understands the need to be more careful and sensitive....He does understand, now, that if he takes the process too quickly or insensitively, then the children will find the transition difficult and confusing and they may well suffer an adverse reason from others within the community in which they live for the majority of their lives. He is clear that this is the last thing he wants." I declined to turn the Satmar rules into a defined court order, and instead included expressions of intent in the order.
  2. The mother's case now is that the father has been unwilling or unable to honour his commitment to respect the children's Satmar way of life, such is his own rejection of that life and his excitement at the new opportunities available to him. She submits that it was plain throughout this court hearing, which focussed significantly on the issue of schooling but in doing so dealt at length with the interlinked issues of way of life, that the father is quite aggressively pursuing a newfound zeal for the non-Satmar way for the children. She points out that Dr Asen agreed that the father is bitter about the experiences - particularly in relation to education - that he feels he was deprived of, and at the same time he is excited at the newfound freedoms in his chosen way of life. She submits that unless the court includes in an order the requirement for the father to follow the Satmar way of life in detail when with the children, he will continue to push the margins and to expose the children too quickly to these differences. Even in something as simple as wearing the kippah, the only remaining visible manifestation of the father's Jewish way of life, the father refuses to wear the kippah for the whole of the children's visits and he will only agree to wear it at specific times such as during certain Sabbath rituals.
  3. The father rejects that case. He considers that he is having to make all the compromises in this case. He points to the very significant planning that enabled him to provide the children with a loving and appropriate Sabbath visit. He says, quite simply, that as he has left the Satmar community it is unreasonable to expect him to live in accordance with its principles; he expressed the concern that were he to do so in the children's presence, then in time they would become aware that he has been lying to them about his own new way of life. His case remains that there are so many Satmar rules, that they are tied in to very complex school rules, and that it is completely inappropriate for these rules, wholesale, to form part of the court order.
  4. The evidence of both Dayan Lichtenstein and Dr Asen helps me on this issue.
  5. Dayan Lichtenstein is an Ultra Orthodox Jew, who was educated within both the L and Satmar education systems. He is not of the Satmar Community, and in his role as Head Judge of the Beth Din of the Federation of Synagogues in London dealing with rabbinical issues worldwide he has knowledge and experience of all of the Jewish communities in London, from Ultra Orthdox to non- observant. He seems to command respect from both parents. Much of his evidence was relevant to the issue of the children's schools, however his evidence about the Satmar approach is also of relevance to this issue. He explained that even within the Ultra-Orthodox Community, the Satmar Jews are at the most conservative end of the spectrum of belief systems. He told me that they "have a very closed view of things", they are "intolerant of other strains of Judaism", "Satmar is not an open and welcoming society". In respect of such issues as evolution, Satmar will express the most "fiery" and "extreme" view.
  6. Dr Asen spoke from a different perspective, focussing on the impact of differences between these parents on these children rather than on the specific differences between the Satmar, other orthodox and secular communities of which he has no particular knowledge. He spoke of the importance of consistency for the children, especially between their primary residence and their school. He said that contact "has to be fantastic for the children, not marred by hiccoughs or forgetfulness". A must not be upset by any differences and if, for instance, it would help him for his father to wear the kippah throughout the contact visit then the father should get on and do it, for A's sake. The father must do anything to make the contact easier for the children. Dr Asen did not think that there would be a risk of the children thinking, in future, that their father had tricked them by "pretending" to be Satmar. He said that "at the moment, clothes are important to the children. They are quite concrete thinkers at this age they take their cues from visual matters - food and clothes rather than ideas and concepts". The father will be able to explain to the children that he respects them when they are with him.
  7. In the parents' sessions with Dr Asen, these issues were so plainly important that Dr Asen asked the mother to prepare a written document setting out the rules by which she and the children live their daily life; with the help of her aunt the mother produced this document. This is a lengthy document containing complex and detailed rules. It is the mother's case that the father is intimately familiar with these rules as, of course, he lived by them himself until just two years ago. Dr Asen emphasised the importance of consistency for the children, but he said that consistency can be achieved in different ways. Ultimately what is important for the children is that both parents support them together; the most damaging thing for them would be to become aware that one of their parents does not support a practice of the other. Dr Asen agreed that anything that might risk leading to social exclusion of the children is to be avoided at all costs. He said that "I would be very concerned at the children being marginalised in their community, for instance by learning about where children come from. The father must make sure he does not use the children to support his social crusade. "These children need to feel embedded in their community. It would be awful for their social and emotional development for them to be undermined here".
  8. I remain of the view set out in the November judgment namely that over time the children will and must come to understand their father's way of life in a way that allows them to share his life appropriately. The father must, however, be patient. I had already accepted the evidence of Ms Ionescu that new experiences should only be introduced sensitively and at the children's pace. It is important to record that in many ways the father has done this. Although the evidence has focussed on the ways in which the father has or is alleged to have acted unwisely, he has continued to provide A and B with loving, warm, appropriate contact and he has worked with the mother in sessions with Dr Asen to reassure her on such issues as the children' clothes for their Sabbath visit. The father has, however, in the ways set out in the discussion of findings of fact above, been unable to be patient at all times. While some instances of this may be less important than others, every instance must be seen against the strictures of the Satmar way of life and in the context of the potential impact on the children. Simply to focus on the issue of television, the father seems unwilling or unable to see that if the children continue to watch television they will be bound to talk to their peers about it. This risks the parents of those other children refusing to let their children play with A and B. In other words this would risk the marginalisation of the children that would cause Dr Asen very significant concern. It will also cause them confusion as they will have to try to understand why something designed to be enjoyable to them is regarded by their mother in their community as wholly inappropriate. Further, exposure of the children to portrayals of the theory of evolution are plainly dangerous, and risk the children's exclusion from school as well as community. Dayan Lichtenstein's evidence was stark about the lack of flexibility and acceptance within the children's community.
  9. It is not a question of whether it is fair to require the father to compromise on these issues. I repeat that it is not a question for this court to adjudge which chosen way of life is to be preferred, whether the Satmar inflexibility is right or wrong, or whether children should or should not be allowed to watch children's television. In fact, while the father believes that this mother is making no compromises, I agree with Dr Asen that for her it is a significant compromise to support the children in their weekly trip out of the Satmar Community. Of course they must make these trips because their father is and will always be of fundamental importance to them, and the mother has actively supported the contact as demonstrated by the extent of the children's ease when they are with their father. The simple fact is that Satmar is the children's main world and it always will be for as long as they live in the primary care of their mother. Both parents must accept and support this, and ensure that the children are not harmed in any way as a result of the predicament in which the parents find themselves.
  10. The father must, as Dr Asen says, do absolutely everything possible to put the children at their ease when they are with him, which seems at the moment to involve minimising any obvious differences between his world and theirs. He must not show them television even if they profess, having seen it, to want it. He must not say or do anything which risks marginalising the children within their community. He and the mother will know better than anyone else in court the words or actions most likely to cause difficulties for the children.
  11. I would add this. However hard the father works to honour this commitment, the children will inevitably see and hear things when they are with him that they would not and should not hear within Satmar. That is unavoidable. Whilst he must help them to make sense of such matters in a protective and supportive way, the mother must equally understand that this will happen. She must not rush to blame the father when such matters arise. If the children say something to her which worries her then she must not presume that the father himself has acted inappropriately. She must not unilaterally suspend the children's time with their father as ordered by the court. She must not take the community view about what she should do - although it is quite apparent on the evidence that the community is taking a deep interest in this family and providing entire support to the mother rather than the father. She must speak to the father to find out what has really happened with a view to the parents managing it together. Dr Asen emphasised that the most damaging thing for the children will be if they discover that one parent disapproves of the other.
  12. For the court, the question is how to reflect these expectations in an order. The mother invites the court to seek assurances for the father and, in default, to make an order incorporating a complex list of "dos and don'ts", 17 bullet points covering the detail of daily routine, clothing, Sabbath and other festivals, and the detailed specification of Kosher food. Some bullet points are simple and straightforward eg "to dress modestly..." while others involve other further lists eg "to fulfil all commandments and customs pertaining to these [festival] days..".
  13. I accept that this judgment must give clear expectations. I have done so at length above. As in my last judgment I accept that the Order made by the court should include some expectations of the father, especially given my findings of fact. I conclude that it is inappropriate, however, for the court actually to incorporate such a list as part of an Order. What, for instance, would the court do to enforce a requirement that the father "maintain an appropriate atmosphere befitting the [festival] period"? Nor do I consider that the full document should appear as a schedule incorporated in the order for the same reasons. This is an issue of trust and responsibility, and I very much hope that Dr Asen can continue to help the couple to work through these complex issues and achieve an acceptable consensus. This judgment identifies clearly the structure of expectations and the issues of greatest concern.
  14. I have looked back to the preamble to the November order, at [B1] in the Bundle. I will receive brief written submissions on any further paragraphs to appear under the heading "expression of intent" - a maximum of four further paragraphs - encapsulating the key concerns set out in this judgment.

Extra time after weekend visit to the father

  1. The only change sought is that the father wishes to bring the children home at 7pm rather than 5pm after their weekend visits to him. The mother resists this, saying that although the children return at 7pm on Thursdays, they only have half a day at school on Fridays after their late evening. By contrast, Monday is the start of the week and the children need a good night's sleep. If the children only get home at 7pm, she cannot get them to bed until at least 9pm and they are then tired the next day. Once again, the father needs to be patient. These are very little children who have only just begun to make these weekend overnight visits. The visits are going well, and the arrangements should not be changed. I suspect that these little children, who plainly adore their visits to their father, get worn out by them. It is important that they can settle back at home before starting their school week. All of these arrangements can slowly evolve as the children grow and their daily routine changes.
  2. In addition at the Guardian's suggestion, the father would like to collect the children from school for the Thursday visit, and the mother has indicated no objection. I endorse this as it will help the father to become more involved in the children's school life. I make it clear that I would take a very poor view should the school not work with both parents to make this positive for the children, and in particular to support the father to become a real part of the children's school life. This must include working on any adverse reaction from the children at the school as a result of the father's appearance. The father cannot overcome that alone, even by dressing appropriately, and the school must help to deal with it.

Schools

  1. In November, I commented on the relatively sparse information filed on the issue of schooling. The main task for the court was to decide between the father's wish for the children to go to the progressive S School and the mother's wish for the children to remain in a school that was ideally Satmar but was at least much more traditional. Both parties wished the court to reach a decision despite the deficiencies in the evidence.
  2. This time I have heard much more evidence about the differences between the L schools (the father's choice and, for B, the court's choice last November) and the Satmar schools (the mother's choice).
  3. The evidence on the schooling issue has come from Ofsted material, from the parents in their written and oral evidence, from Dayan Lichtenstein and from the Guardian.

 

Ofsted

  1. The L girls' school was inspected in June 2013. The resulting Ofsted report grades the school as good, with some outstanding features. The report indicates that pupils study Kodesh religious studies in the morning and secular subjects in the afternoon. I saw this report at the last hearing.
  2. The B girls' school was inspected in February 2012. The resulting Ofsted report grades the school as good, with some outstanding features and just one of 7 features as inadequate, this relating to the physical premises and accommodation. This inspection was by an inspector who does not appear to be an Orthodox Jewish inspector. The report indicates that the children learn Kodesh studies in the mornings in Yiddish with secular studies in the afternoon predominantly in English. Among the secular studies, pupils take GCSEs in art, business studies, English, geography, maths and history. Science is studied to Year 9. Of work identified to be carried out, a report dated November 2012 indicated the progress that had been made.
  3. After the hearing finished the father sent one further Ofsted document concerning this school. On 20 January 2015 Ofsted paid an unannounced visit to temporary premises where the pupils, mainly boys, were studying while new premises were being completed at the school's main site. The intention was for these premises to be vacated in February 2015, and I am told in emails that this has happened, so that these plainly unsatisfactory premises are no longer being used.
  4. The L boys' school was inspected in January 2014. The resulting Ofsted report grades the school as "requires improvement". Issues leading to this grading included lack of process in reading and writing, lack of focus and discipline in class and some concern about bullying. Following a monitoring inspection visit in May 2014, the Inspector wrote that the school were taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement. Finally following the autumn 2015 SATS results, the DfE reported that the SATS at L boys showed an increase by more than 50% which was the highest jump for any primary school in the country.
  5. There is no Ofsted report for the B boys' school. In February 2012, the boys' school regarded itself as part of the girls' school but this had not been approved by the Department of Education. To regularise the position the school requested a material change. The narrative is taken up in a Monitoring Inspection report dated November 2012. The change was originally not recommended due to Regulations that were unmet, after which the school followed an action plan. The November report concludes that the school had made satisfactory progress and now met all regulatory requirements. The father challenges the reliability of this report, not least because it was carried out by a Chareidi inspector. I am told that there is likely to be a full Ofsted inspection of this school in the near future.
  6. Purely on the Ofsted information, it appears that the two girls' schools are of similar standards and both teach the same division of religious and secular studies. I summarised the Ofsted evidence about the L boys' school last time when rejecting the school due to the unsatisfactory report. The subsequent Ofsted evidence suggests that the school has made good progress since. There is no report about the B boys' school yet, however the governing body is closely linked to that of the girls' school whose Ofsted report is good, and I know from the latest report that the boys have just moved into newly completed school premises.

The father's challenge

  1. As I have already said, the father challenges the reliability of the Ofsted reports of the Satmar school, especially where inspectors are from the Chareidi Community. He submits that the B school has tricked Ofsted by pretending that the school has secular studies when in fact it does not. He further submits that the school tricked the Guardian when she visited the school in order to collect the various written policy documents to which I have referred. He said that she was tricked into believing that the children had left for the Passover holiday when in fact they would still have been at school. The Guardian repeatedly told the father in evidence that she actually did see some pupils at the school, and that she had never been told by the school that all of the pupils were away. The father is also critical of the Guardian for not visiting the L schools.
  2. The father produced certain documents during the hearing including
    1. A practical guide to Satmar schools advocating corporal punishment, signed by teachers including the head of the mother's favoured schools;
    2. A timetable in Yiddish, obtained by the father from a parent at the school, which does not show any secular studies;
    3. Work sheets from the same source, referring to obliterating Zionists, and killing bad Jews; and
    4. An extract from a Haredi Schools guidebook which includes the phrase "...the basis of faith is entirely based on annihilating the mind and intellect to be replaced by the tradition received from his parents and educators".
  3. These documents give the father grave concern about the Satmar schools and, he submits, the court should share his concern.
  4. In response the Children's Guardian points to policy documents she obtained from the school which are reassuring on issues such as methods of discipline and anti-bullying. When the Guardian visited the B school she saw work on the walls in English. Her advocate submits that the work sheets must be seen in context in that whilst they express extreme views that might not usually be expected to be before such young children, they are pictorial and simple written portrayals of a story that is part of Satmar heritage, about a Rabbi who was badly treated.

Other evidence relevant to the schooling issue

  1. Dayan Lichtenstein spoke at some length about the very significant difference between L and Satmar schools. He explained that the schools represent two very different strands of the Orthodox philosophy. L welcomes all sorts of Jews and the schools will have a variety of different children; the Satmar, however, have a very closed view of things and are intolerant of other strains of Orthodoxy. He explained that the prayers are different, the attitudes towards the outside world are different and the attitudes towards learning are different. The two Orthodoxies have opposite views about the state of Israel. There are other Ultra-Orthodox communities such as Bobov and Wiznitz which are closer to Satmar, but L is very different to all of these. Dayan Lichtenstein had never heard of a Satmar child going to a L school. He said that it would be "toxic" for the Satmar child. He also said (though this would necessarily follow from his other evidence) that he had never heard of a family in which one child went to a Satmar school and one to L. He said that a Satmar child would only go to a L school if there was some problem. He said, when asked by the father, that he would not want his own children to go to a Satmar school.
  2. Dr Asen gave evidence before Dayan Lichtenstein. He had not specifically dealt with schooling in his report, and he did not profess to be an expert on the differences between or to know the detail about the different schools being considered for A and B. For Dr Asen, the differences between the schools were less important than the ability of these parents to support whichever school the court chooses for the children and then to work together to manage any difficulties for the children. He agreed that consistency between home and school was important for the children, but he made the point that consistency can be achieved in different ways - mainly by parental co-operation. Dr Asen emphasised how hard and well the parents had worked in their sessions with him, and he said that his work would aim at helping both parents to give the children their essential support to whichever school the court chooses. For him the point is that the children's parents live in different worlds now, that is the simple fact, and the children will inevitably be exposed to both and must be helped to understand both. This requires compromises by both parents. It is, said Dr Asen, essential that the disappointed parent still shows the children that they support the outcome.
  3. As I have already indicated above, Dr Asen emphasised the importance for these very young children of their being embedded in their community; marginalisation would be very harmful for them. Dr Asen thought that if the mother had to support the children in a school outside Satmar she had the ability to do so but she would need help in this task, and it might cause all sorts of complex issues for her within the community. In answer to a question from Miss Kirby for the mother, Dr Asen said that in a hardline school the children would be more likely to be excluded for repeating information that they should not have heard but that they had heard from their father.
  4. The mother told me that L is very different. The children look different. The mothers look different, and they are more likely to speak English than Yiddish. She said that a friend of hers has L neighbours whose children laugh at the appearance of her children. She feared that the children would be outsiders, and she was clear that she would stand out as different to the other mothers. Whilst these differences may be less apparent to someone outside either community, to those within they are fundamental.
  5. The father told me that the differences are not as great as had been portrayed, and he emphasised the extent to which L would welcome the children and would welcome him. I have already set out the father's lack of faith in the Ofsted reports from the Satmar school and his fear that the school is, essentially, covering up the fact that it teaches only kodesh studies and does so through the use of physical chastisement.
  6. The Guardian emphasised in her oral evidence that she was focussing on primary education given that A is only 5 and B just 3. She did not profess to be an expert on issues to do with education which is why she had not visited all of the relevant schools; she had only visited B at all to collect documents rather than herself to assess the school. For the Guardian, the Ofsted reports were not the main issue, though she noted that there seemed little to choose between these schools on the information available. For her, as for Dr Asen, the most important thing was for the children to be embedded in their community in schools more congruent to home; if this happens then she considers that the children will be better able to deal with the very different world they experience when with their father. She concluded that it will be easier and better for the children to be at a school within their community.

Education: the welfare checklist

  1. The children are too young to express their wishes and feelings on this subject. In any event they are far too young to understand the complex interplay between the issues which arise in relation to their schooling.
  2. I agree with both parents that the children 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. I consider it absolutely essential that the schools chosen for the children are able and willing to interact fully with both parents; the schools must meet both parents - in an ideal world together - before the children begin their school life there.
  3. As to the impact of change, I have considered the father's evidence that L and Satmar schools have many similarities. I have also in mind Dr Asen's evidence that whilst there will be differences between the schools there will also be many similarities. Dr Asen had not heard Dayan Lichtenstein's evidence, however, and he recognised his own lack of detailed knowledge of two Orthodoxies. I found Dayan Lichtenstein to be a helpful and informative witness, not of the Satmar community but deeply knowledgeable about each community relevant to my decision. I accept that there are very significant differences between the Satmar and L schools which would be apparent to the children. I accept the mother's evidence that she would feel very much an outsider at the L school - not only would she look different but she speaks a different language, and this would make it harder for her to support the children in coping with those changes. I further accept the risk that when the children come home and display the different ideas they learn at L - for instance in relation to Israel - there would be a risk that those within the Satmar Community would disapprove and, marginalise the children to avoid the spread of these ideas to other Satmar children.
  4. These are Satmar children by birth, by parental intention and by the way they have been raised. They will continue to be Satmar for as long as their mother continues to be their primary carer. They are, however, children who must learn how to adapt to a life which includes their father and includes an ability to spend fulfilling time with him in his secular world. Nothing that happens at this stage of the children's life must raise the barrier to that process higher than circumstances have already set it. The children are, however, very young and as Dr Asen said, at the moment the children's focus is on tangible differences. Ideological issues will become more important later on.
  5. I accept Dr Asen's evidence that the children are 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.
  6. As to the parents' capability of meeting the children's educational needs, both will struggle to support the children in the schools chosen by the other parent. If the children remain within Satmar then of course the mother will fully support these as they are her chosen schools and they educate in a way with which she is intimately familiar. The father will find it extremely difficult to support the children in schools where he fears over harsh physical treatment of the children, where he fears that he will be excluded as a "renegade Jew" (Dayan Lichtenstein's description of him), where he fears being teased for his different appearance in a way which will rebound on the children and where, fundamentally, he fears that the children will not gain a good secular education but where he considers they will be steeped in the Satmar ways which he profoundly rejects.
  7. If the children attend L then the father will be more satisfied. This is still a compromise for him as he strongly favoured the S school, and he follows the L beliefs no more than he now follows the Satmar beliefs. He is however reassured that L will welcome him as a parent and he is further reassured by the greater local authority involvement in the running of the school. He believes that the children will be more likely to receive a secular education at L and to be able to go on to enjoy a wider range of further education. The mother would find it very difficult to support this school as she would be different to all the other mothers, she fears that the children would be bullied as they too would be different, and the children would be taking Kodesh studies based on a wholly different belief system to hers and that of the Satmar community.

 

Schools: conclusion

  1. In the light of the extensive further evidence from a number of sources and a number of perspectives I conclude that it is necessary to revisit my decision in relation to B as well as reaching a decision about the schools proposed for A.
  2. I have reached the clear conclusion that A and B should both attend the Satmar schools rather than the L schools. My reasons are as follows:-
    1. I prefer the evidence of the mother and importantly I accept the independent evidence of Dayan Lichtenstein that the Satmar and L schools are very different, and that these children would find it very difficult indeed to live in Satmar and attend L schools ("Toxic" according to Dayan Lichtenstein).
    2. I accept the evidence of Dr Asen and the Guardian that the children need to feel embedded rather than marginalised within the community in which they spend the majority of their lives. If they attend the L school both the children and their mother would stand out as different to the other parents and children, in ways that only became clear in the course of Dayan Lichtenstein's evidence which Dr Asen did not hear. The children would be learning a way of life that is different to Satmar in important ways, and this would make them different on their return home.
    3. L practices neither the mother's beliefs nor the father's beliefs. The mother would be unable to support the children in the new prayers, the new songs and the new religious teachings which they would learn daily, and the father would have neither the L knowledge nor the will to support the children in these different teachings, given his choice of a secular way of life.
    4. It is the children who will have to attend the school every day and the mother who will have daily contact with the school, morning and afternoon six days a week. By contrast the father will attend only once or twice a fortnight. It is more important for the mother and children to be able to fit in at school than for the father to be able to do so.
    5. I accept the consensus of the evidence that B and A must attend schools which are consistent with each other; if one child attended L and the other attended Satmar then there would be a yet further difference for the children to cope with namely a difference between each other's daily lives.
    6. Ofsted evidence does not point decisively to either school. The evidence about the girls' schools indicates that they are providing an equivalent quality of education. The Ofsted evidence about both of the boys' schools is less satisfactory; L was "requires improvement" although recent evidence suggests it has made significant improvements, while Satmar is too new to have had an Ofsted report but is linked to the girls' school already assessed as good, and the boys' school has just moved into new improved premises.
    7. There is no objective evidence supporting the father's plain distrust of the Ofsted reports on Satmar or his conviction that secular studies are not offered. Importantly the favourable report on the girls' school does not appear to have been carried out by a Chareidi inspector, and it is that report that commented on the secular education provided at B. In referring to GCSEs Ofsted must have had access to GCSE results from pupils at B, and the fact that the girls take GCSEs is also confirmed by the letters about the "Get Set Girls" dated 15 April 2015 and 16 April 2015. These letters show that girls from the Satmar school have been congratulated on their excellent 2014 GCSE results in English and Maths.
    8. I am satisfied that the worksheet produced by the father should be seen in context as part of the Satmar history and heritage rather than an expression of the Satmar views generally today. Whilst the content may be unusual for children of this age in general, therefore, it does not establish anything sinister about the teachings of the school about non Jews in general.
    9. As to corporal punishment, the father's evidence at its height is that the school snacked a classmate of A because the classmate hit A. I have no real detail about the allegation that A was smacked. I say this not to condone smacking but to give context. I can make no finding that physical chastisement has been used at the school. The school is Ofsted inspected and has appropriate policies in place. In the face of that statement of policy and the assessment of the DfE, I cannot proceed on the basis that the school condones the use of physical chastisement and should thus be excluded as a school for the children.
    10. I understand why the father is concerned that the Satmar letter offering the children places set out requirements of him in a way which the L letter did not. I have made it clear that the children's school must not take the father "on sufferance" but must honour and respect his role in the children's lives. The letter must be seen in context, however, and the mother was asked to clarify with the school the basis on which the father's position should be managed. Dr Asen considered the requirements set out in the letter to be reasonable, excepting only that he did not have an explanation of what the school mean by "dressing appropriately". The school has clarified this in a way which reassures rather than concerns the court. I have repeated that if the father is able - as he must be - to do his best to engage with this school I expect the school to reciprocate, and there is nothing to indicate that it will not do so.
    11. If the father is straining against Orthodox life, then the risk that he will speak unwisely to the children will remain. Whilst L is likely to be more forgiving of the father than Satmar should the children repeat inappropriate secular information, it has no current loyalty towards either of these parents. Satmar has shown itself, albeit not this particular school, to be sufficiently supportive of the mother and children to make some allowance for these children given their predicament. That loyalty is of value to the children in this difficult family arrangement.
  3. I emphasise that I am not making any value judgment about the options for the children. I am simply reaching decisions in the children's best interests given the fundamentally different choices that their parents have made for themselves. I repeat what I said at the start of this judgment. Issues of real difficulty will continue to arise even if both parents do their very best to support the children and the role of each other in the children's lives. Each parent must exercise patience. Both must exercise understanding. Neither must rush to think the worst of the other. In particular neither should rush to request a review of the arrangements put in place by the court. Neither must unilaterally change those arrangements. I commend the work of Dr Asen and his team in helping the parents to find a way to negotiate this difficult route. The court is the least suitable and constructive forum in which to try to do so.

Other matters

  1. I am conscious that I have not dealt with some residual issues such as passports, and holidays. I have heard virtually no evidence about either but will hear any focussed written submissions about the terms of the order relating to holidays.
  2. I will say this in principle:-
    1. As this is a final order, the mother should retain the children's passports as she is their primary carer. She has the ability enshrined in the Children Act to take the children abroad for up to 28 days without needing to seek the permission of the father and the court. She should, however, give him good notice of any such holiday and her intentions during it;
    2. The order will set out in terms (if the last order did not) that the children are habitually resident in England and Wales;
    3. Plainly the mother will need to make appropriate proposals to make up the children's time with their father;
    4. The parties should work towards the children spending extended times with their father during holiday periods, starting with shorter extensions in the near future and aiming at an equal share of the holidays in the middle term, I would think by summer of 2016;
    5. Given the importance of the religious festivals during the year to the mother, and their lack of importance to the father, then the mother should be able to spend the majority of those festivals with the children unless this would build in a long term unfairness. Given the importance of the festivals to the children, then the father must be able to spend some of those festivals with the children.
  3. I will endeavour to resolve any residual issues without a further hearing.

 

 

HHJ Rowe QC

9 May 2015


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