Divorced women who have their own source of income will henceforth be required to pay child support, under a new regulation issued by the Chief Rabbinate on Monday.
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Until now, rabbinical courts have automatically assigned responsibility for child support to fathers when ruling on divorce cases. But under the new rule, proposed by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, rabbinical courts will have to consider the financial means of both parents before deciding who should pay how much child support.
The change will not affect cases where child support is settled by the civil family courts rather than the rabbinical courts.
“It was necessary to provide an up-to-date interpretation of the regulation, so that it would accord with our sense of justice and the value of equality,” explained Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration.
Yaakobi also argued that the new rule might help reduce the number of cases in which men refuse to grant their wives a get, or Jewish bill of divorce. Some family court judges, he charged, routinely impose large child support payments on the fathers, “and sometimes this creates get refusal and pushes off the divorce.”
The Chief Rabbinate’s decision effectively upstaged a bill submitted yesterday that would also have required child support payments to be based on the parents’ financial means rather than their gender. The rabbinate argues that this bill, sponsored by MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), is now superfluous.
Prof. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Academic Center of Law and Science, welcomed the rabbinate’s decision. “This is an extremely important decision that suits the reality of our lives and will increase equality among the spouses,” he said.
“Nevertheless, application of the principles of equality and fair division must be expanded not only to child support, but also to all other areas of life where religious law permits it, and especially to the urgent need to find suitable solutions within the framework of Jewish law to the inequality between men and women” in divorce cases, he added.
Under Jewish law, divorce technically requires the consent of both partners. But while there are ways to circumvent the woman’s consent in extreme cases, no mechanism exists for circumventing the man’s consent. Thus men who refuse to divorce their wives, or who have disappeared, leave the women trapped.
But not everyone shared Hacohen’s enthusiasm for the rabbinate’s decision.
“We fear this decision will ultimately harm more children and leave more children going hungry,” said attorney Irit Gazit, head of legal services at the WIZO women’s organization. “The decision says the financial means of both parents must be taken into account, which could create a situation in practice in which less child support is paid.
“We have no objection to adapting the law to the present times, but we’re surprised that the rabbinate’s explanation for the change is equality between the sexes and the fact that the decision, so they claim, will prevent get refusal,” she added. “If they want to prevent refusal, they need to make giving and receiving a get easier, or at least open a path for civil divorce and marriage.”
Galia Wolloch, president of the Na’amat women’s organization, said she had no objection to women participating in child support, but “it’s surprising that this outbreak of ‘equality’ and modernity by the rabbinate and the rabbinical courts stops when it comes to appointing a female director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration, or to equal division of the property accumulated during the marriage that was registered in the husband’s name.”
She also rejected the idea that equalizing child support payments would result in fewer men refusing to divorce their wives.