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Court victory for Jewish mother in sordid custody battle

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A Jewish mother whose weeks’ old baby boy was kept from her by her abusive, estranged lover, last week won the right to equal contact with her beloved sons – a two-year-old toddler and a baby of five months.

The foreign mother, 28, with an Israeli passport, who first arrived in South Africa eight years ago, was victorious on Friday, 29 July, in the Johannesburg High Court.

It follows a bitter custody battle between her and the father of their two boys – a wealthy, high profile Johannesburg family and criminal attorney. The man, who has represented the rich and famous in family disputes, found himself embroiled in his own complicated and messy domestic tussle.

“At least I have my babies back with shared custody. It’s a start,” said the mom this week. The couple’s identity may not be revealed according to a court order.

“My boys are my whole heart, my life. I’ve been through hell and they have been tossed about. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I’m relieved and happy that with the amazing support of this incredible Jewish community and close friends, my boys will be with their mother, where they belong.”

She told the SA Jewish Report, “This is a story of a man who used his power and influence to bully a young woman.”

The Johannesburg High Court on Friday overturned a  provisional order granted on 28 June whereby the children were to live with their father, and allowing their mother supervised visits for only two hours a day.

The dramatic court battle began after the mother took the children to Durban without informing the father on 26 June, allegedly in breach of a contact schedule she claims she was forced into by him under duress.

Leading up to this verbal agreement between them, he had allegedly taken the baby from her for nine days without letting her know where he was in a bid to force her to sign the said contact schedule. “He held my baby for ransom,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

The couple’s romance started off in the summer of 2018. She was an attractive entrepreneur and he was a high flying attorney with holiday homes, farms, and fancy cars.

They met when he was her divorce attorney in 2017. They began dating the following year, and officially moved in together in 2019 with no plans to marry but with a desire to start a family together.

Their first son was born just before the start of COVID-19 and things seemed to be going quite well. She was open with him about her bouts of depression and anxiety, and kept it in check with medication.

Things became ugly and abusive during her second pregnancy, she said in court papers, with him becoming distant and less attentive.

She alleged in the court papers that he was having an affair while she was pregnant, and alleged he physically abused her when she was 35 weeks pregnant. He then moved out of their home a week before their second child was born, and broke up with her about five days after giving birth, she alleged in court papers.

The former lovers both allege physical and verbal abuse in court papers. He accused her of having “fits of rage and manic outbursts” and being emotionally unstable.

The toxic and abusive relationship resulted in him obtaining the interim court order on 28 June which enabled him to keep the children under his roof. This order was granted after she took the children to Durban, allegedly without telling him.

She called on the court to reconsider this order, accusing him of separating her from her children. In her papers, she said she was left with no choice but to leave him as things had become intolerable. “Our relationship was tumultuous, and was one in which I had to endure emotional, financial, and even physical abuse,” she wrote in court papers. She accused him of abusing her economically, belittling her, and threatening her.

In a dramatic turn of events in the Johannesburg High Court on Friday, the mother emerged victorious after the judge overturned the provisional order granted on 28 June.

The father was ordered to share the children and pay maintenance. Represented by Ian Levitt Attorneys, this young mother managed to regain the right to equal contact to the children, and the father was ordered to pay costs towards their upkeep.

“He needs to know that complete strangers are looking after the well-being of his children, that the mother of his children is living off charity. He tried to make out that I was an unfit mother. This was heartbreaking in the extreme,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

“Though I’m relieved that at least I have shared custody, I know there’s still a long way to go. I’m still using my friend’s credit card to buy groceries. However, this story is about a strong Jewish mother who is standing up for what’s right with the help of the community. It’s about standing up to a bully.”

Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack of Koleinu SA attended court in a show of support for the mother.

“This is a classic, textbook case of domestic abuse. This woman allegedly suffered abuse in almost every area of the relationship from financial, emotional, psychological abuse to real harmful physical abuse,” said Hendler, Koleinu SA director.

“This is about a man who allegedly wielded his enormous wealth, power, and influence over a vulnerable, isolated woman with no family support in South Africa, with visa issues and no means to earn a living, and he used all this to demean, hurt, punish, humiliate, and denigrate her and ultimately attempt to remove her children from her.

“Domestic abuse is all about power and control, and the red flags were apparent right from the start. Even from his alleged refusal to allow their sons to be brissed, to what colour she should dye her hair, and what car to drive, there was disapproval and belittling. It can be subtle in the beginning. That’s why people don’t see it or tend to dismiss it because most people want to focus on the good in a person, but it always comes back to haunt us in the end.This is what women need to look out for. Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour. It runs over time, and is not just one thing, an abuser operates over many areas, all the while putting the person down and making them doubt their own sanity,” said Hendler.

“From Koleinu SA’s perspective, the biggest issue in this case is one of parental alienation in which one party uses the children as pawns in a power struggle to hurt the other party. In this matter, the father removed an infant from the mother’s custody. This is a clear sign of abusive and highly controlling behaviour, and should never be tolerated.”

A forensic psychologist has been appointed to investigate issues of “primary residence, contact, and care of the minor children”.

“Pending finalisation of the investigation, the parties shall have shared residence in respect of the children. The parties shall exercise contact with the children on an intended equal ratio. Neither party shall remove the children from the Republic of South Africa without the express written consent of the other party,” the court ruled.

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