Last week on our Somerville family law blog, we began discussing an interesting opinion piece written by a guest columnist for the Star-Ledger. The columnist explains why many Orthodox Jewish women who live in New Jersey fear that they will lose custody of their children if they choose to divorce their spouses and no longer practice their religion or follow certain traditions.
In New Jersey, a family court judge will consider many factors when determining child custody. Although religion is one factor a judge may analyze in order to determine which parent will be able to provide the most stable environment for a child after divorce, it is not the only factor that is considered. Living arrangements, criminal histories and a parent's involvement with his or her children are all other important factors that are closely analyzed when determining child custody arrangements. But as the guest columnist explained, a parent's religion is heavily weighed by Orthodox Jewish court judges. If a mother wishes to leave the community, she will most likely lose custody of her children.
Despite the fears the columnist had when she finally filed for a divorce from her husband and the challenges she faced for doing so, the woman explains in the opinion piece that she was able to work out a child custody agreement with her ex-husband. However, there are many other women in New Jersey in similar situations who fear that they will not see such a favorable outcome if they choose to divorce their spouses, the woman explains.
The woman believes that this is a very concerning issue in the Jewish Orthodox community, and since her divorce and personal battle for child custody she had founded a nonprofit organization that provides resources to other women who are in similar situations and feel helpless. Her organization helps women leave arranged marriages by providing these women with the resources and courage to do so.
Women who wish to leave the Jewish Orthodox community may certainly face many unique challenges if they wish to file for a divorce from their husbands. But there are also other women and men not affiliated with the Jewish Orthodox community who may feel just as trapped in their own marriages and have similar fears about losing custody of their children during divorce proceedings. These fears are real and can prevent people from moving forward with divorce if they do not know how to protect their rights during divorce proceedings.
Source: Star-Ledger, "Among N.J. Orthodox Jewish women, child custody fears form barrier to freedom," Fraidy Reiss, April 15, 2012