The cabinet on Sunday endorsed a bill lowering the age at which infants are automatically placed in their mother’s custody.
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The bill, submitted by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, states that from the age of two years, the child will be the parents’ equal responsibility, unless they agree otherwise. Currently, that age is six.
After receiving the backing of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, the bill will be reviewed by the relevant ministries before being brought to the Knesset, presumably within five weeks. The committee decided to postpone by a month debating a similar bill, proposed by MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), which opposes automatic custody even for children under two.
The Justice Ministry bill adopts most of the recommendations of the Schnitt Committee, established in 2005, which coined the term “shared parental responsibility,” whose practical effect would be to jettison the concept of automatic maternal custody altogether and examine each case specifically, with the child’s best interest in mind.
Still, the bill is a compromise of sorts, and grants mothers “a form of custody,” with the aim of preserving the infant’s daily life prior to the divorce. In most cases the court will grant the mother custody until the age of two, but in some cases, when proven that the child was mostly under the father’s care, the latter will be granted custody. The Schnitt panel’s recommendations will be implemented in all cases of children over two years old, with the courts instructed to focus on the child’s best interests.
Women’s groups have opposed both bills, as well as the Schnitt Committee’s conclusions.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On said last week that “as long as religious and civilian laws do not guarantee equal responsibility at the time of the marriage, the superimposition of such a formal equality in the event of divorce might damage the children’s safety and well-being.” Gal-On submitted an opposing bill, determining that automatic custody up to the age of six will be retained.