Standing Up for Sane Balances and Parents' Rights

In her new book, Dr. Daphna Hacker analyzes the legal implications of the dramatically shifting institution of family.

Vered Lee
Vered Lee
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Vered Lee
Vered Lee

Traditional families are all alike, but non-nuclear families are all non-nuclear in their own way.

Families have never been more diverse. Marriage rates are dramatically down, while single-parent households are up. Families where both parents are the same sex are becoming more common. The nuclear family as we once knew it is changing.

Dr. Daphna Hacker, a senior lecturer on the law faculty and in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, has written a new book about the legal implications of the dramatically shifting institution of family.

"People nowadays are free to design their own life stories, as individuals and families, without clear social restrictions. The new family is an expression of that freedom," she says.

Hacker's book, "Family Issues from a Legal Perspective," was recently published by the Modan Publishing House and the Ministry of Defense as part of the Army Radio project, University on the Air. She spoke to Haaretz about families, the court system, and the changing Israeli household.

Haaretz: What sort of challenge does the new family present for the legal system?

“The first challenge is to catch up with the pace of social development. The institution of the family is changing so rapidly that the law is having trouble keeping up. We need suitable rules, and we need to be making consistent decisions. For example, in the wake of the rising divorce rate, many children live in households with one biological parent and that parent's new partner. Israeli law, however, hasn't figured out yet how to handle these situations, and doesn’t know how to classify the partner. Are they a parent? A stranger?

"The second challenge is instituting rulings in a cultural reality where we still don't have any sort of broad consensus on the definition of a family. What constitutes a family? How should we classify the relationships between family members? This encompasses the question of whether underage girls should be allowed to marry, whether mothers should get preferential treatment in custody hearings following a divorce, and whether or not it is a crime for a parent to hit a child while disciplining him."

Israel's legal system is very unique in that we have both civil courts and rabbinical courts. What sort of affect does this double system have on family conflicts?

"In law, we generally agree that there are significant differences between the two types of courts. Women tend to fare better when they approach the civil courts, while men are usually more successful when they go to the religious courts. Because of this, you don't often see the two sides sitting in a café and trying to hash things out on their own. Instead, both partners contact a lawyer, who will advise their clients to sue in order to gain the best possible advantage. From the moment the two sides make statements in writing, there is no turning back. The channels of constructive communication are closed."

Is there still room under Israeli law for an approach that encourages marriage and children?

“Definitely. The law offers benefits to married couples and guides them toward parenthood, including by exempting married women from army service, giving preference to married couples seeking adoption, and providing greater assistance in housing loans. Another example is the regulation of the housing market. In Israel, the vast majority of apartments have four or five rooms. There are no laws requiring the construction of smaller apartments for single renters, which means that if you don't have a family, your housing options are limited. In a sense, the housing laws mark the nuclear family as an exclusive norm."

In Israel, do children have a voice in legal procedures that have to do with their families?

“Until recently, children’s voices were heard only partially, through expert opinions provided by social workers. Recently, however, two family courts conducted an experiment. In cases where there was a disagreement between divorcing parents on what the parenting responsibilities would be, the children were invited to speak with a social worker, who encouraged the children to tell her how they wanted their family to look following the divorce. The children were then allowed to choose between meeting personally with the judge or having their statements passed on to the judge. The experiment was very successful, and a decision was made to expand the project to all family courts."

What is “the right to active parenting” that you are putting together?

"It’s the right of parents to be present in their children’s lives in a meaningful way on a day-to-day basis, rather than being a slave to the salaried job market. Women and men are expected to devote all their time to working outside the home, and to be available by cell phone and e-mail at home as well. Active parenting is a right, and if we recognize it as such, we will put an end to this phenomenon. The state needs to recognize our right to be both active parents and salaried workers. There are several ways to do this. You can enforce labor laws that put a cap on hours worked, you can provide tax breaks to employers who are family-friendly, and you can extend maternity leave. I've been getting incredible responses, which prove that many people are in favor of a saner balance between work and family."

In Israel, there are no laws requiring the construction of smaller apartments for single renters. Credit: Eyal Toueg
As families change, so do gender roles and social mores.Credit: Dan Keinan
Dr. Daphna Hacker, a senior lecturer on the law faculty and in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University.Credit: Courtesy

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