Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, in an unprecedented recommendation to the Supreme Court, has suggested that the incomes of both parents could be taken into account when calculating child support, not just the income of the father.
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In the legal opinion submitted to the court Tuesdayon his behalf, Mendelblit wrote, “There is room for flexible thinking with regard to the father’s obligation to pay child support in cases of joint custody. In appropriate instances, there is room for considering the incomes of both parents when ruling on child support.” Mendelblit did not address whether there might be certain situations in which the father could be excused from child support altogether, although he did not rule this out.
The current law defers to Jewish law when the case involves Jews. Jewish law imposes full liability on the father to provide for his children, even when there is joint custody and regardless of how much he or his estranged wife earns.
Mendelblit included an appendix with the opinion of Dr. Michael Vigoda, the head of the Justice Ministry’s Jewish law department. According to Vigoda, the mother’s income can be taken into account when calculating child support for children over the age of 6. For younger children, Jewish law imposes the duty of providing for essential needs solely on the father.
Vigoda explained that with regard to children over 6, the Chief Rabbinate’s regulations regarding child support can be interpreted in two ways, one that imposes an absolute obligation on the father to provide for his children, or a second way, which holds the father liable by virtue of the requirement to give charity, which would make the mother’s duty to the children equal to his. Under this interpretation one could consider the mother’s income when calculating child support.
Mendelblit’s opinion was presented to the seven-justice panel at a hearing on the issue Tuesday that lasted nearly four hours. The court has been hearing an appeal over the question of whether in cases of joint custody where both parents have similar incomes, or if the father earns less than the mother, the child support demands on the father could be reduced or eliminated. In June, the court had asked Mendelblit for his input on the issue.
The court also asked Mendelblit’s representative, attorney Ruth Gordin, whether there had been any progress on legislation that would change the child support provisions of the law. Many jurists have opined that such a substantial change to current practice should not be made through a precedent-setting ruling by the court, but rather by legislation.
Last June Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said she was setting up a ministry panel to examine how to implement recommendations by the Shnit and Schiffman committees on child custody, child support and related issues. The ministry said the panel was needed to sort out all the issues involved, including tying the get (divorce decree) to property issues, the authority of the rabbinical court as an arbitrator and the weight of prenuptial agreements. To date, no such ministry committee has been appointed.
Gordin told the justices that there had been no real progress on legislation since the Schiffman committee had submitted its recommendations for reforms in 2012, nor was there any bill in the offing.
Justice Esther Hayut addressed this delay in legislation, when the attorney for the woman, who is the appellant, implied that there was no need for the court to decide if there was legislation in the offing. Hayut noted that it had taken the Schiffman committee six years to come up with recommendations (it convened from 2006-2012). “Now we’re in 2017 and there isn’t even a bill by any government committee. Are you suggesting, sir, that we deny the right of appeal and decide not to decide until the legislature does nothing, or should we rule on the cases before us?”