Israel's Supreme Court: In Joint Custody, Parents to Share Child Support Equally

Justices rule that parents who earn relatively the same amount should bear financial responsibility in line with their abilities

Members of Horim Shavim (Parental Equality), an organization for divorced parents, in Jerusalem, May 30, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday changed the nature of child support, ruling that divorced parents who share the custody of children aged 6 to 15, and who earn about the same, will be liable for child support according to their economic capabilities.

Presently the law requires only the father to bear child support, even if the mother earns more. Both parents will be equally obliged to bear the child’s support, but the precise division between them would be based on their specific economic capabilities, including wages, and based on the actual distribution of custody.

The panel of seven justices, voting unanimously, also laid down rules in principle for distribution.

"Each parent holding joint custody will bear the children's subsistence costs," wrote Justice Daphna Barak-Oz. "Thus, these expenses will be 'offset' without the need for parents to compensate each other, based on a given child-support payment that the family court will order." The justice stated that payments will be adjusted according to the ages and relative financial needs.

When the parents earn the same amount, the primary caretaker will receive from the other half the costs of non-essential expenses, such as clothing, textbooks, unexpected medical treatment.

The court may also instruct the parents to consider additional solutions such as maintaining a joint bank account, based on the family’s circumstances.

Justice Noam Solberg wrote: “Inequality between men and women characterizes the hard core of family law in Israel - marriage and divorce laws, and according to Jewish law, the divorce is in the hands of the man – he may give it, or not. Yet that cannot justify unequal distribution of the obligation to pay child support.”

He added: “This is not only because of the principle that ‘two wrongs don't make a right,’ but because of the fact that we do not seek to disengage the question of child support from the divorce process as a whole. They will remain intertwined.”

Last December, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit issued a groundbreaking opinion to reinterpret the law and to account for both parents' income, not only the father’s, when ruling on child support for divorced parents. Mendelblit did not address the issue of whether to cancel child support in certain cases, or just to reduce payment.

Current law is based on Jewish law. In an appendix to the attorney general’s opinion, the head of Jewish Law at the Justice Ministry, Dr. Michael Vigoda, advocated taking into account the mother’s income in determining child support for children over the age of six. For children under this age, according to Jewish law, the obligation of support for essential needs is solely the responsibility of the father.