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May 28 2013

Ex-Hasidic Mother Loses Kids to Foster Care

I’ve written many times over the last few years about parents losing custody or visitation rights due to their lack of religious belief, but this case is particularly appalling if the facts in this article are true. An ex-Hasidic mother has lost custody of her kids to foster care due to her lack of religious commitment — despite accusations of abuse on the part of her ex-husband.

A 32-year-old mother from Monsey, N.Y., has lost custody of her children due largely to what a judge described as the mother’s inadequate religious observance.

Kelly Myzner, mother of three boys, ages 5 to 8, recently had her children removed from her home, following a custody battle that ended with a ruling in favor of the Hasidic father.

In a ruling dated April 22, 2013, Judge Sherri L. Eisenpress, of Rockland County Family Court, ordered the custody transfer “despite the children’s expressed wishes.” The judge acknowledged that the mother has been the children’s primary caretaker, that the children were “extremely bonded” to her, and that she appeared to be “far more involved and vigilant” about their care than the father. Still, the judge worried that the mother’s lax religious observance would “tremendously confuse” and harm the children.

Complicating the case are allegations of physical and sexual abuse brought by the mother against the father, and the judge’s speculation that the complaints were only a ploy to alienate the children from their father. Myzner claims that she had no such intentions, and the court ruling acknowledges that the father regularly used corporal punishment coupled with a bad temper.

On May 14, after an unsuccessful bid for a stay on the order, the children were removed from Myzner’s custody. Due to pending investigations against the father on abuse complaints, the children were placed in foster care.

There’s a lot more in the article, so read the whole thing. But if all that is accurate, there’s a serious injustice going on here.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    composer99

    Still, the judge worried that the mother’s lax religious observance would “tremendously confuse” and harm the children.

    What bullshit.

    I am not a lawyer, but assuming the role of the judge & legal system in this case is to adjudicate in favour of the best interests of the children, surely all this

    The judge acknowledged that the mother has been the children’s primary caretaker, that the children were “extremely bonded” to her, and that she appeared to be “far more involved and vigilant” about their care than the father.

    coupled with the children’s express wishes not to be taken from their mother’s care should trump any misguided concerns about “confusing” children.

    (The judge also gives the children little credit: surely they will quite quickly work out that there are “rules in Mommy’s house” and, if the father gets even periodic custody, “rules in Daddy’s house” – and which set of rules, I dare say, they will prefer.)

  2. 2
    Dr X

    The rationale for this decision is absurd. For now the children are in foster care. How can this not be more damaging than their supposed confusion about their parents’ religious differences? And even if the children are returned to the father’s primary custody, the parent they are emotionally closest to will still have a different religion and lifestyle. If it was confusing before, the situation would remain confusing except now the children will be with a bad-tempered man who uses corporal punishment serious enough to have required mandated reporters to contact CFS. So what could explain Judge Eisenpress’s decision?

    How about we follow the money per a story predating this one:

    Despite their money battles, political sources said, Stern joined forces with Eisenpress during her first run for elected office in 2011, when she won a seat on the Rockland County Family Court bench.

    Stern, 40, helped [judge] Eisenpress raise about $125,000 — nearly four times more than the combined amount raised by her two opponents — by drumming up support for her in Rockland County’s Orthodox Jewish community, according to one political source familiar with the campaign.

  3. 3
    left0ver1under

    I definitely not wishing for it, but I won’t be surprised if it ends up like a recent case in France.

    http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2013/05/20/Brit-father-admits-killing-children-in-France/UPI-98591369082345/

    I’ve lost count of news stories about messy divorces where one parent kills a kid or kids just to prevent the other parent from gaining custody. If it’s not the ultimate in selfishness, then I can’t think of a better example.

  4. 4
    Synfandel

    This is why a professional judiciary is preferable to an elected judiciary.

  5. 5
    jolly

    This judge should be taken off the bench for breaking her oath to follow the Constitution, oh, that’s right, they swear on a holy book so it doesn’t count.

  6. 6
    jaxkayaker

    Reminds me of a woman a few years ago who lost custody because the judge was offended that she was a member of the Church of the SubGenius. I can’t recall the details, but I think she was referred to as Sister or High Priestess Magdalene in the Church’s ceremonies.

  7. 7
    Jackie

    That is illegal. That judge does not belong on the bench.

  8. 8
    sathyalacey

    And the religious right worries about Sharia courts. Hah!

  9. 9
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    At the bottom of that article is a link to a fundraising campaign for Myzner’s legal fees.

  10. 10
    Jackie

    Also, as a foster parent I can tell you that in my conservative state, while the biological parent may request a home that follows their religious beliefs when the kids are first placed in care, that does not mean the state has to provide one. Foster care is overflowing. The likelihood that the kids will be placed in a Hasidic home may not be that great. So what is the point of this? Foster parents are not required to be religious and the kids are not supposed to be forced to attend any religious service they don’t want to. Further, I’ve seen kids returned to abusive homes, homes where drugs are used (and given to the kids) and homes that are overrun with rats and roaches. Judges are under pressure not to cost the state money by keeping kids in foster homes. (At least that what the head of my agency once told us.) I don’t see how this is even possible.

  11. 11
    Dr X

    I have no doubt that a comparable story about a Muslim family would have been similarly covered in this venue, but such a story would have thrown the right-wing blogosphere into apoplectic overdrive. Does anyone know if they’ve even made a peep about this story?

  12. 12
    jenny6833a

    “I’ve written many times over the last few years about parents losing custody or visitation rights due to their lack of religious belief …”

    Such shit isn’t limited to cases where a judge requires religious belief. For example, sometimes the judge thinks clothes are required. I hope you’ll write about these and other cases too.

  13. 13
    tiredofusernamerules

    Absolutely appealable.

  14. 14
    slc1

    On the face of it, the decision by the judge appears outrageous and should certainly be appealed. However, a word of caution is in order. The source of this story is a web site that is heavily prejudiced against Hasidic Jews as it consists of ex-Hasidic Jews. Thus, we are not getting a neutral, unbiased account here. It is possible, even if unlikely, that we are not getting the whole story here.

  15. 15
    Ben P

    On May 14, after an unsuccessful bid for a stay on the order, the children were removed from Myzner’s custody. Due to pending investigations against the father on abuse complaints, the children were placed in foster care.

    no no no no

    I can’t make much of the article because it just omits important facts, but I think the most important thing here is that *as described* this doesn’t happen.

    It absolutely happens (and shouldn’t) that a father might win a custody battle in part because he is religious and the mother is not, and the judge buys into the claim that continuing a religious upbrining is in the best interests of the children. The factor which the religious wishes of the parents play a role in this is one of the truly difficult questions of child custody law.

    But what is described is contrary to federal law, </b. so there's little chance that New York is peculiar in this regard.

    Here's how it breaks down. Under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the Federal Government finances state foster care programs. Depending on your state, somewhere between 75 and 90 cents on the dollar for the cost of placing children in Foster Care are borne by the federal government.

    However, in order to claim this money, the state must have a Court find that the state "used reasonable efforst to prevent the children from Coming into foster care." If the Court doesn't make that finding, no money for that child.

    it just does not happen that the Father brings a custody claim, wins, but then rather than being placed with the mother, the children are placed in Foster care because a court believes the father is inappropriate. This can only happen if a Court found not just that custody should change, but that the Mother's home actually presented a health and safety risk to the children. I find it very difficult to believe the COurt found anything like this based on her religious compliance or non-compliance. Something else is going on here.

    It's important to remember that in any story like this, state child protection agencies are prohibited from releasing any information by strict confidentiality laws involving juvenile courts. So you only hear the side of the parent that has the ear of the media. That parent says whatever they want, and the state can't make any information to contradict that publically available, so TLDR, don't always believe what you read in stories like that.

  16. 16
    Ben P

    Well, I completely botched the tags in the above post.

    And I should add, I suppose it’s not completely unimaginable, but if a judge were actually stupid enough to order children into foster care because the mother isn’t religiously observant, and for no other reason. That would be a per-se 1983 claim and any competent lawyer would have a habeas petition and complaint filed at the federal courthouse the next morning.

  17. 17
    slc1

    Re Ben P @ #15 & #16

    As I pointed about above, the linked story is to a highly biased source. Unfortunately, a Google News search fails to turn up much of anything from a neutral source.

    It does appear from the Newsday source link linked to @ #2 that this judge has a gigantic conflict of interest.

  18. 18
    steffp

    @17

    ditto. And Daddy will go to jail soon – for a substantial time.

    “Stern, who pleaded guilty to unspecified federal charges March 11, was aiding the FBI in its investigation of Jasmin and Desmaret, sources say.”

  19. 19
    Ichthyic

    Myzner hadn’t realized that the pool of prospective matches had been a narrow one. “I was a baal tshuvah, and they were basically setting me up with Satmar ‘bums.’ I was taking my religion very seriously, and these boys were just not like that. But I had no way to know that.”

    I will cite this the next time some religious idiot tries to tell me that religion has nothing to do with the prevalence of misogyny in Western society.

  20. 20
    Randomfactor

    Something else is going on here.

    Like a judge giving more weight to the allegations of someone whose religious views and money she agrees with? I’ve seen that pretty close-up.

    Or it could easily be as simple as siding with the money.

  21. 21
    DuWayne

    Ben P – I looked into this earlier this week and noted the conflict of interest discussed in the article Dr. X links to, which shows that at a minimum, that the judge in this case is beholden to the Hasidic community, and has been involved with some seriously shady dealings. Does that mean this is all true? No, but it does explain how a judge could make such a seriously fucked up ruling.

  22. 22
    gertzedek

    @Ichthyic — actually, the quote in question has little to do with misogyny and more to do with xenophobia. Baalei teshuvah (lit. “lords of repentence”, idiom. “adult Jews who become more Orthodox”) are often discriminated against in Orthodox communities, especially ultra-Orthodox ones like the Satmars. BTs (men and women) are considered second-class citizens compared to FFBs (“frum from birth”…i.e., someone who’s always been Orthodox), especially when it comes to things like matchmaking, even if the BT is every bit as pious and observant as the FFBs s/he’s being compared to. So, in this case, the matchmakers wouldn’t set up this woman with any decent men (just “bums”) because she wasn’t born frum, despite her religious observance being as good as anybody’s.

    Actually, that quote has little to do with religion at all — it’s more of a cultural issue, with the insular Satmar culture passively rejecting someone who’s nominally joined. There’s plenty of misogyny in this story, but that quote isn’t a good example.

  23. 23
    amyjane

    I grew up in Rockland county, which is where Monsey is located. The Hasidic community has become very powerful. I don’t doubt the mother’s claims. The Rabbi will make the decision and everyone else will fall in line.

  24. 24
    Owlmirror

    Baalei teshuvah (lit. “lords of repentence”

    I disagree with that translation. “Ba’al” has more than one meaning, including “husband”, “master”, and “owner”. “Lord” is actually an unusual sense of the term in recent Hebrew. I would say that “owner” is the most common sense when the word is used idiomatically. For example, ba’al-hayim = “owner of life” = animal; living organism.

    I would “literally” translate ba’al t’shuvah as “owner of penance” = “penitent”.

  25. 25
    Ichthyic

    There’s plenty of misogyny in this story, but that quote isn’t a good example.

    bah, they treated her like chattel because she wasn’t born orthodox.

    you’re wrong.

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