August 11, 2014 – The Wall Street Journal
Divorce decrees granted by religious leaders heavily favor the still-devout parent
When Shloime Fisher started his divorce process three years ago, he found the proceedings to be “very civilized.” Now, Mr. Fisher said, he faces an uphill battle to broaden his paternity rights.
What has made his situation different from the average soured divorce is that he wasn’t only unwinding a marriage—he was divorcing the whole Orthodox Jewish community.
Most New Yorkers reach a divorce agreement through mediators or civil court—usually over several months, with an attorney’s help. But those who leave the Orthodox Jewish faith, as Mr. Fisher did, must mediate their divorces through religious leaders, facing agreements that heavily favor the still-devout parent, experts say.
“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.
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