A father of five who left Manchester’s ultra-Orthodox community in 2015 to start life as a woman was denied access to her children by a court on Monday.
The woman, whose name is being kept under court seal, asked Manchester Family Court that she be “sensitively re-introduced” to her family. Her former spouse, the children’s mother, countered that the children would be ostracized by their friends and community if they had contact with their parent.
The judge ruled that there was a very real chance that allowing her access to her children — a boy aged 12, 8-year-old twins, a boy and girl, a boy aged 5 and a 2-year-old girl — could lead to “the children and their mother being marginalized or excluded by the ultra‐Orthodox community.”
Justice Peter Jackson wrote that his ruling was “not a failure to uphold transgender rights, still less a ‘win’ for the community, but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making.”
Before making his decision, Jackson met with the 12-year-old boy, as well as hearing evidence about Jewish law and customs from community members and testimony from the children’s guardian and the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.
The petitioner asked that her children “be helped to understand her new way of life and allowed to enjoy regular and significant contact with her outside the community.”
The mother countered that “direct contact of any kind during their childhoods… will lead to the children and herself being ostracized by the community to the extent that they may have to leave it.”
The Anna Freud Centre told the judge after psychological assessment of the children and with “evident reluctance that the benefits to the children of resuming contact with their father would be outweighed by the harmful community reaction that would be visited upon the family.”
The petitioner told the court that “the children were told that the reason for her absence was that she was in a mental hospital or that she had died.” The mother denied this, but said that “on professional advice, she told the younger children that their father was in London and not well.”
In his decision, Jackson wrote that “weighing up the profound consequences for the children’s welfare of ordering or not ordering direct contact with their father I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalized or excluded by the ultra‐orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact.
“I therefore conclude with real regret, knowing the pain that it must cause, that the father’s application for direct contact must be refused,” he wrote.
However, Jackson said that the children could have indirect contact with their father, through letters and cards.
“I see no reason why this should not take place four times a year for each child, perhaps coinciding with their birthdays, and with Pesach, Sukkot and Hanukkah,” he ruled in his judgment.
The judge took a shot at the community, writing that “children are goodhearted and adaptable and, given sensitive support, I am sure that these children could adapt considerably to the changes in their father. The truth is that for the children to see their father would be too much for the adults.”