The High Court of Justice on Tuesday issued an interim freeze against an order of the Shari’a Court of Appeals in Israel that would have led to transferring custody of two children from the mother to the father in a custody battle.

The conflict pits the civil court system against the Shari’a courts (which can serve Muslims living in Israel), with the Jaffa Shari’a Court having said it can overrule a prior decision of the Haifa District Court granting temporary custody to the mother.

According to a Justice Ministry statement, the facts of the case are as follows: The couple married in 1999 and have two children, ages nine and 13.

The couple split after the husband started physically abusing the wife, with the wife running away from their home in the North with their two children to live in the central region.

In 2008, the mother filed a request with the Kiryot Family Court to obtain custody of the children as well as alimony and maintenance payments from the father.

There was significant litigation on the issues before the Kiryot court and a number of social-worker evaluations of the parents, with the court granting the mother temporary custody and obligating the father to undergo further tests regarding his competence as a parent.

Following the father’s failure to cooperate with the officials empowered to evaluate him and with the court in general and his failure to pay maintenance per the court’s order, the court froze the case (with the children in the indefinite temporary custody of the mother) until the father came into compliance with the court’s directives.

Simultaneously, the father initiated parallel custody proceedings before the Jaffa Shari’a Court, in which he contended for the first time that the mother was a Muslim.

While there is no dispute that the father is Muslim, the mother has always claimed to be unconnected to any religion and the father insisted on moving the kids into Muslim schools whereas they have been learning in secular state schools for years.

In parallel, the Jaffa Shari’a Court granted the father custody while the Haifa District Court upheld the Kiryot Family Court ruling in favor of the mother and said that the shari’a courts had no jurisdiction.

However, following the father’s ignoring that ruling and obtaining a ruling from the Shari’a Court of Appeals that the Shari’a courts had jurisdiction, the Haifa District Court told the mother that she could only obtain further relief from the High Court.

The Justice Ministry’s Legal Assistance Division on Monday filed a petition with the High Court that quickly blocked any continuation and enforcement of the Shari’a courts’ proceedings until it decides whether custody should be decided in the civilian or the Shari’a courts.

The petition’s ultimate goal is to void all Shari’a court decisions on the issue and to uphold the civilian courts’ decisions in favor of the mother.

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