Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is advancing far-reaching legislation that would treat men and women equally in payment of child support in divorce cases.
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Shaked’s legislation would go even further than the High Court of Justice’s precedent-setting ruling last week that divorced parents of similar income with joint custody of their children will pay child support according to their economic ability.
According to Shaked’s proposal, which the Justice Ministry has been working on for a year now, child support will be calculated according to a standard formula based on the income of each parent, without reference to the sex of either parent or how much time they spend with their children.
Shaked wants to promote the legislation as a government-sponsored bill within months. Justice Ministry officials said the High Court ruling provides more support for the bill they have in the works.
A committee headed by Pinchas Shiffman, a professor of law, was appointed in 2006 by then-Justice Minister Haim Ramon to study child support in Israel. Six years later it delivered its recommendations to then-Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman. Shaked’s staff has been making changes to those recommendations, some of which were demanded by women’s organizations and some by men’s organizations, for the past year.
Child support is currently determined by religious law, and the man is the sole parent responsible for paying it. While last week the High Court gave a different interpretation than Jewish law as it has been applied, the Shiffman committee recommended that Jewish law not be taken into consideration at all in this matter, and that responsibility for child support no longer be only the man’s.
Minister checking application of civil law
Shaked is examining to what extent civil law can be applied in the various courts, as recommended by the Shiffman committee.
Among the panel’s recommendations to be amended by the Justice Ministry bill, for example, is one that was criticized by both men’s and women’s groups: that the amount of child support a parent would have to pay would be reduced only if the child spent at least five out of seven nights at that parent’s home. Men’s groups were critical because they said if their child spent fewer than five nights with them, they would not be entitled to lower child support, and women’s groups said they feared that men would seek custody of this type only to pay less child support.
Guy Raveh, chairman of the NGO Shared Parenting, said that in other countries, three nights with the parent are enough to set lower child support payments. In response to the criticism, the Justice Ministry said parents would pay less child support on a sliding scale, beginning with the first overnight with the parent.
As for the sum of child support, the Shiffman committee offered formulas dividing up amounts of support based on the parents’ income. The formulas were based on the recommendation of an economist, Prof. Reuben Gronau, who was a member of the committee. Several organizations pointed out that the amounts in the formulas are much lower than what the courts currently award in child support, and will increase poverty among children in divorced families. The Justice Ministry then appointed a team of economists to examine the formulas, and plans to recommend higher child support.
Another change in the Shiffman committee recommendations involves occasional expenses for the child, such as a sudden medical expense or clothing. The panel assumed that parents would work out these expenses between them informally, but women’s organizations expressed concern over disputes that would leave these expenses unfunded or at the feet of one parent. “It would mean a certain increase in the poverty of children after a divorce,” attorney Keren Horowitz of the Rackman Center, a woman’s legal aid organization, wrote in a position paper. The High Court ruled that a joint bank account would be maintained for this purpose, or one parent would be appointed treasurer for such expenses, a position the Justice Ministry backs.
Shaked began promoting the issue of child support after she decided to disband a committee examining both child support and custody of young children in divorce. Experts say changes in legislation need to be made on both these issues at the same time, but Shaked decided that the custody of young children was too politically volatile and so she took on only child support.