A child custody case crossing international borders was resolved by a judge at Nazareth Family Court last Tuesday when a British father was granted custody of his two sons. The court’s final ruling was cleared for publication on Monday.
“Due to the circumstances presented before me, it is in the children’s best interest that they return to live in England with their father,” said Judge Assaf Zagury in his final ruling.
The two children, ages 7 and 11, currently living with their mother in Israel, will return with their father to England.
The children’s parents, a Jewish mother and Christian father both from England, had lived together for 15 years until their relationship hit the rocks in 2009. Following the deterioration in her relationship with the children’s father, the mother decided to relocate with her children to Israel.
The father agreed to the children’s move with the hope of reuniting with the mother in Israel.
However, after she had settled down in the country, the children’s mother made clear to the father that she wanted to separate. Following this, both sides filed custody claims for the children.
A professional psychologist and a legal guardian appointed by the court as expert witnesses stated their belief that the children should stay in Israel with their mother.
The psychologist reached a diagnostic conclusion, which he said took into account the greater parental suitability of the mother compared to the father. This reason, combined with the fact that in his opinion the children had adapted well to life in Israel, led the psychologist to state that the court should accept the mother’s custody claim and leave the children with her in Israel, as a solution that was the “lesser of two evils.”
The court-appointed legal guardian concurred with the psychologist’s opinion.
By contrast, a social worker asked by the court to provide her professional opinion emphasized that the children were born in England and were educated there until they arrived in Israel. From their perspective, the social worker stated, moving to England would be a return to the familiar and not a plunge into the unknown.
The social worker also emphasized that the children’s own wish was clear: they see themselves as British, not Israeli, and wanted to return to live in the United Kingdom.
In her words, it would be very difficult for the children to understand if their own wishes weren’t reflected in their custody ruling.
“The two boys display a strong longing for familiar surroundings and the sense of security that they felt in England,” the social worker told the court. “Their strong desire to return to England doesn’t come from the father’s prodding, but from genuine emotional difficulties in adjusting to Israel.”
In his ruling, Zagury couched the court’s judgment in terms of the best interests of the minors, giving special weight to the children’s desire to return to England.
While examining the question of parental suitability, the judge stated that the mother’s decision to move with her children to Israel wasn’t taken in consideration of the children’s best interests.
“Certainly, it wasn’t done by putting the needs of the [children] ahead of the mother’s personal needs,” the judge said. “She didn’t mislead just the father but the children too by telling them the move [to Israel] was temporary and that afterward the entire family would return to England,” he wrote.
The court also considered the question of the damage that might be done to the children as a result of being repeatedly pulled back and forth if they returned to England, and by their father having a new girlfriend.
The court decided, however, that the children would still be returning to familiar surroundings, to friends and family members with whom they had remained in contact. The court was also told that, in regard to the father’s new girlfriend, the children had a positive attitude toward her.
“As much as a judge tries to distance his feelings from his ruling, those feelings in the end take a hold of him like pincers,” said Judge Assaf Zagury in describing his difficulty in making the final ruling.