Israeli Ministers Backtrack on Law Granting Mother Automatic Custody of Preschoolers

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Creating a married name can cause extra problems if you divorce.Credit: Dreamstime

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted Tuesday to postpone a controversial decision on cancelling a clause in the divorce law mandating that children under the age of 6 live automatically with the mother in cases of custody disagreements.

The clause, proposed by Likud MKs, received the committee’s support during the last Knesset, but despite the coalition’s support, it did not pass in a full Knesset vote.

In a 2008 report, a committee headed by Prof. Dan Shnit, former head of the Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, made a controversial recommendation that a child had a right to joint parental custody in divorce cases involving young children, which the law defines as those up to age 6. Traditionally there has been a presumption in Israeli law that young children would be in the custody of their mother.

On Tuesday it emerged that the vote was postponed to try to muster renewed agreement within the coalition on the clause.

However, the postponement likely means that the clause, proposed by MK Yoav Kish (Likud), will probably not be cancelled. However, based on a plan to be agreed on in the framework of a government-sponsored bill being formulated by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, it may be reworked in a more moderate format.

Haaretz has learned that Shaked, along with MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria, and Merav Ben Ari, pressured the committee to postpone the vote.

“Research shows that children need stability to overcome the trauma of a divorce,” said Azaria. “This bill does exactly the opposite.”

After the postponement, Senior Citizen Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel, who had formulated the original bill together with Kish, said she would not vote for bills sponsored by controversial Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich. Gamliel told Haaretz Tuesday: “We waited for a government-sponsored bill, which did not come. This law should be passed today. We are sick of the foot-dragging.”

Kish, who is also chairman of the Knesset House Committee, said: “The time has come to redress this injustice that hurts parents and children. I am sorry that the ministerial committee backtracked on its original decision.”

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