New Israeli Law Would Grant Preference to Wealthier Parent in Custody Battles

Critics of coalition-backed bill say controversial clause would favor men in divorce proceedings

Israel Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, in 2016.

Under a proposed new law, a parent who earns more than his or her spouse will be awarded custody of their children in divorce cases. A joint Knesset panel on Wednesday approved the bill for a first reading. The law would affect parents who fail to reach a joint agreement and a court must rule on the case.

The bill, which is seen as giving men an advantage as they generally earn more than women, was prepared by the joint panel of the Education Committee and the Special Committee for the Rights of the Child.

The controversial bill, sponsored by MK Yoav Kish (Likud), stipulates that when a judge determines the custody arrangements he will consider "each parent's economic fortitude and his ability to grant the child economic security, in consideration with his income in the two years prior to the separation," among other criteria.

The Knesset is expected to vote on the bill in first reading on Sunday. Sources familiar with the details said Kish inserted the clause, which gives men an advantage over women, with the intention to revoke another clause, saying the judge must take into consideration the stability in the child's life and how each parent took care of him before the divorce. This clause is advanced by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi).

Men's organizations claim that Moalem-Refaeli's stipulation is intended to give mothers an advantage in obtaining custody.

Kish's last minute clause raised a stormy debate in the committee's meeting. MKs Moalem-Refaeli and Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) strongly objected to it, as did childcare experts. Justice Ministry attorney Moriya Cohen-Bakshi said the fact that a parent is rich or poor must not affect custody arrangements. The consideration must be the child's good, not the parents' economic situation, she said.

Welfare officials said the parents' economic situation was not a factor the child's good cannot be determined on the basis of the parents' economic situation.

The committee decided to approve for first reading two contradicting versions – one advanced by MKs Kish, Yehudah Glick and Bezalel Smotrich, and another by Moalem-Refaeli and Azaria – and to further discuss the bill ahead of the second and third readings.

Under Kish's version, the court will not take into consideration each parent's treatment of the child in the two years prior to the separation.

The chairwoman of the Committee for the Rights of the Child, MK Yifat Shasha Biton, who supports Kish's version, said that giving a mother automatic custody of children under six must be revoked.

Smotrich said the clause dealing with the parents' wealth "is only one of many considerations associated with the child's welfare."

MK Meir Cohen suggested the Moalem and Azaria delete from their proposal the clause about stability in the child's life in exchange for revoking the clause linking the parents' economic situation to the custody.

"Economic strength has never been a measure for anything in parenthood in Israel," Azaria said. "Kish and Smotrich, you have shown that you're not interested in the children. All you want is to show that you screwed the women. The bill is opposed to anything that Judaism ever stood for, and everything that Israel represents."

Moalem-Refaeli said that the "awful clause" enabling to buy parenthood with money will not succeed. Anyone who cares about the child's welfare is supposed to act cleanly and transparently, not with political tricks, she said.