Almost one-third of divorced mothers require child support from the state because their ex-husbands have defaulted on their payments, according to data from the National Insurance Institute and the Bailiff’s Office.
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The institute has paid some five billion shekels (more than $260 million) in child support payments over the past 40 years that it was unable to recover from the ex-husbands, with the average debt per divorced man coming to 108,000 shekels, according to the NII. Around a third of the exes are considered lost causes who will never repay, because they are abroad, imprisoned or bankrupt.
Currently, Israeli law on child support is based on Jewish religious law, which holds the father responsible for the support of his children; as a result, courts tend to order child support payments without any regard for how much the wife earns.
In the next few months, the Supreme Court will rule for the first time on whether in cases where there is a joint custody arrangement and the parents’ incomes are similar, the father’s child support obligations should be reduced. Last Thursday, Court President Miriam Naor decided that an expanded panel of seven justices will hear the arguments.
Of 90,000 divorced single mothers with children under 18, some 18,000 got their child support from the NII in 2015. In addition, over the past two years, 12,000 claims were made to the Bailiff’s Office by women whose ex-husbands weren’t paying child support but who didn’t qualify for NII child support payments. The Bailiff’s Office reports a total of 33,000 unresolved claims against husbands who refuse to pay child support.
There is also an unknown number of women who don’t get child support and don’t seek to get it for various reasons. “There are women who were victims of domestic violence and forgo child support so as to never again have to speak to the man who abused them,” said Buba Levi of Hakol Hanashi, an advocacy group for single mothers.
“There are woman who can’t get their money through the Bailiff’s Office either because they are afraid, or because their exes are bankrupt,” said attorney Keren Horowitz of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women. “There are also women from wealthier families who didn’t want to start a struggle with their exes and gave up in advance.”
When Galia Drori and her husband divorced six years ago, the court ruled that the husband had to pay 5,500 shekels a month ($1,433 at current exchange rates) in child support for their two children, who were under two years old.
“He paid me once, and since then I haven’t gotten a shekel from him for the children,” said Drori, who was forced to stop working so she could qualify to get child support from the National Insurance Institute. She is now tens of thousands of shekels in debt.
Women who file for child support from the NII will learn that they will not necessarily get the amount ordered by the court; the limit is 3,200 shekels per month, so that Drori, for example, is getting considerably less than she’s due. Moreover, if a single mother earns more than 600 shekels her child support is offset at the rate of 60 agorot for every additional shekel she earns, so that if she earns more than 5,500 shekels a month, she won’t get any child support at all from the NII. Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz is advancing a bill that would reduce the offset to 27 agorot per shekel, but even then a single mother would lose all her child support upon earning more than 6,776 shekels a month.
To even get that 3,200 shekels, Drori had to quit her job. “If I’d been working and earning 6,000 shekels a month but had to pay for afternoon daycare, I’d end up with less money,” she said. She is now supporting her children on a total of 3,800 shekels per month. As it turns out, she is relatively lucky. The average monthly child support payment provided by the NII in 2015 was only 1,900 shekels a month.
In recent months divorced single mothers have been demanding to do away with the offset provision and sever the link between state-paid child support payments and the woman’s income. A calculation done for former Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen, who had tried to advance legislation to cancel the offset procedure, showed the cost to the state would be only 52 million shekels a year.
One of the women’s main arguments is that the NII child support payments are meant to be interim payments that are to be recovered from the deadbeat ex-husbands by state enforcement agencies. In fact, in 2015, a significant portion of what exes owe — some 38 percent — was recovered by NII and the Bailiff’s Office. These debts are collected from the exes by garnishing wages and benefits, placing liens on property, issuing injunctions against leaving the country, and in some cases, arrest and imprisonment. Nevertheless, some 60 percent of those in arrears have not repaid the NII anything.
In February 2014, another law went into effect that boosted the Bailiff’s Office’s authority to collect court-ordered child support on the women’s behalf. This new “personal child support collection track” was introduced to help enforce court rulings on child support so that on the one hand, women would not have to apply to the NII and risk having to leave their jobs, while on the other hand they could get the full sum they are due, rather than the NII’s truncated sum.
Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz is against changing his single parent policy reform, following criticism. He told the Knesset's Labor and Welfare Committee that the number of cases in which stipend offsets for employed parents has declined by 60 percent to 25 percent, which differs from the figures in the original bill, and raises the cost of the proposal to 60 million shekels.
Previously the cost had been estimated at only five million shekels. The minister said after single mothers protested in front of his house on Sunday that he had spoken to finance officials and decided to amend the law again.
"It's a crack in the wall. I understood we were wrong and we fixed it. Unless we do something the law will stand and there will be nothing. You cannot achieve it all in one go," he told the committee.