January 8, 2021

Willkie has served as pro bono counsel to Footsteps’ clients in a number of child custody and visitation cases.

Footsteps, an organization that provides support and services for people leaving ultra-Orthodox communities, was recently featured in a New Yorker magazine article on the legal challenges in custody cases faced by parents who leave their insular world where the way of life is profoundly different from secular society. The article discusses the organization’s work in providing critical pro bono representation in such cases and promoting legal reform for its underserved population. Featuring interviews with several individuals who have left their communities and sought help in child custody or visitation cases, the article discusses the complex differences between ultra-Orthodoxy and secularism that increasingly end up in court, and how organizations like Footsteps and its pro bono partners have helped advocate for those who left their communities but still want to maintain parental rights and relationships with their children who are still part of an ultra-Orthodox community.

One case highlighted involves client Chavie Weisberger, who was a member of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community prior to her divorce and has since embraced a more secular lifestyle. A few years ago, Chavie temporarily lost custody of her children, in large part because of her refusal to adhere to her community’s practices. She later regained custody but her ex-husband maintained full educational decision-making power over the children. With the help of Footsteps and Willkie, Chavie recently obtained educational decision-making rights for her oldest daughter.

In discussing her case, the article notes, “In the years after Chavie’s appeal, and with the assistance of the pro-bono lawyers, Footsteps members became more assertive: they regularly claimed that it was unconstitutional to force them to adhere to religious practices they didn’t believe in.”

To read the full article, click here.

The Willkie team representing Ms. Weisberger includes senior counsel Joseph Baio and associates Diana Curtis, Allison Berkowitch and Kat Higginbotham.