Israeli Divorced Moms Set to Get Custody of Kids Up to Age 2, Down From Age 6

The move represents a compromise in the governing coalition, and NGOs are divided on the decision.

Currently, mothers obtain custody up to age six unless there are reasons to decide otherwise (illustrative).
Tomer Appelbaum

The governing coalition is set to submit a proposal under which the mother receives custody of children up to age two when divorcing parents cannot agree on an arrangement on their own.

Under the current law, mothers obtain custody up to age six unless there are reasons to decide otherwise.

The new bill is a compromise between the right-wing parties Likud and Habayit Hayehudi. MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) wanted the mother to gain custody of children up to age four. MK Yoav Kish (Likud) urged last year for the automatic custody rights to be completely dropped, and to instead grant joint custody to both parents regardless of the child's age.

Knesset members from the center-right Kulanu party said Wednesday they would support the proposal. MK Yoav Kish (Likud) tweeted in response, “I’m glad the other shoe has finally dropped. I’ll submit a bill based on the agreements to coalition chairman David Bitan.”

The dispute heated up this week. Bitan said neither side would accept a compromise because each wanted credit for it. Moalem-Refaeli's version, for example, was blocked by Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.

To protest what he said was Habayit Hayehudi’s unreasonable stance on the issue, Kish announced he would boycott all votes on legislation submitted by the governing coalition this week.

Both women’s and men’s groups criticized the compromise. “We regret setting the age of two as appropriate for custody,” said Galit Shaul, the director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women.

“We believe the custody age shouldn’t be reduced without a suitable alternative reflecting the situation at home before the divorce and ensuring minimum harm to the child after the divorce.”

As the chairman of the group Shared Parenting, Guy Raveh, put it, “The discussion in Israel is political, not professional. This is no way to push for the benefit of the child. The struggle in the courts over custody is unnecessary and ugly, and intensifies the conflict between parents.”

He said the reduction of the age to two, despite the Schnitt Committee’s recommendations against the move, “will only entrench this terrible situation.”

The founder of a nonprofit group on equal parenting, Lior Galo, said “the compromise on two years old is worse than leaving the current situation as it is. Today custody loses validity as more and more judges rule on joint custody, even against the mother’s wishes .... The bill’s sponsors’ compromise is a betrayal of their supporters.”

But Eleanor Davidov, another NGO official, called the proposal “a big victory for those who care about divorce children. The mother’s automatic custody will not be revoked. But age two is very young and great care must be taken not to harm the children.”

As she put it, “The new bill will have to include an appropriate alternative to the automatic custody law, to make sure it doesn’t plunge families into unending custody battles and helps the courts decide swiftly and easily on the best solution for the children.”