Chavie Weisberger was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, N.Y., and was forced to marry a man she barely knew when she was 19. The couple had three children, but when she began to question her faith and sexuality, she and her husband divorced – and she almost lost her children.
The case is highlighting how New York courts handle divorce and custody issues for the state’s large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While Weisberger’s case was reversed on appeal last August – she has now regained full custody of her children – it brings to light the issues that arise when secular courts decide child custody in the religious community.
People who leave the Hasidic community are often shunned by their family and friends, but they also are often forced to fight for their children, says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, a social services organization that provides social and financial services for those transitioning to a secular lifestyle.
“Time and time again, the argument of best interest of the child, as interpreted as maintain the status quo in their life, is what’s being upheld above all else,” she tellsHere & Now’s Robin Young. “I think, in a lot of the cases that we’re seeing, judges are favoring issues of freedom of religion, and they’re not necessarily looking at the First Amendment issue of freedom from religion.”