The New York Appellate Division court in Brooklyn has unanimously reversed a trial judge’s decision to take away a formerly-Hasidic lesbian mother’s custody of her three children, finding, among other things, that the settlement agreement drafted by her ex-husband’s father at the time of their divorce imposed an unconstitutional requirement that she continue to observe the tenets of a Hasidic lifestyle as a condition of her custody of their children. The August 16 decision in Weisberger v. Weisberger, 2017 WL 3496090, 2017 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 6174, 2017 N.Y. Slip Op 06212, issued per curiam by a four-judge bench, aroused concerned comment in the Hasidic community, as it applied well-established principles of family law that the trial judge, himself an Orthodox Jew, seemed to have overlooked in giving preemptive weight to the father’s religious desires.
Naftali and Chava Weisberger were married in 2002. They were brought together, according to established custom in the Hasidic community, by a professional matchmaker (called a shadchan), and were both 19 years old at the time. They moved to Boro Park, Brooklyn, from the tight Hasidic community in Monsey, N.Y., and had three children together. The move was prompted by Naftali’s desire to pursue religious studies. They raised their children according to traditional Hasidic practices and beliefs, in a home with no television or internet, observing strict restrictions of diet and dress and speaking Yiddish at home.