(Family Division, Baker J, 30 January 2013)
The Canadian father and British mother were both observant orthodox Jews from well-respected and wealthy families. They married in a Jewish religious ceremony in London and then took part in a civil ceremony in Canada. For 4 years after their marriage the couple lived in Israel so that the father could complete his religious studies. They subsequently made plans to move to Canada by which time the marriage was encountering difficulties.
The mother travelled to London to give birth to their second child and after that informed the father that she would not be returning to Canada. The father initiated Hague Convention proceedings seeking the return of the two children. Prior to the hearing to determine the habitual residence of the children the parents agreed to enter into a form of alternative dispute resolution overseen by the New York Beth Din. They agreed to settle the substance of the issues by referring all issues to arbitration to a senior rabbi of the New York Beth Din. After information was presented to the English judge regarding the process permission to suspend proceedings pending the ADR was granted.
The issues were not entirely resolved for 2 years at which time the matter returned to the English court for consideration. The agreement was for the mother to have residence of the children with contact provisions for the father. A financial settlement was also agreed and the parties accepted the English court had jurisdiction in terms of enforcement.
The court endorsed the outcome of the Beth Din process as the resolution was largely in accordance with the overriding objective of the FPR 2010. There was some concern as to delay in the process but overall it was fair and proportionate. The outcome achieved insofar as it related to the children was manifestly in the interests of their welfare and it was unnecessary for the court to embark on a welfare analysis. The financial award was unobjectionable. The parties' devout beliefs had been respected. The outcome was in keeping with English law whilst achieved by a process rooted in the Jewish culture to which the families belong.