Israel Aims to Divide Child Support Between Both Parents

The parties in the governing coalition would have to agree to supplant the guidance in Jewish law under which only the man pays.

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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There is no infant whose needs are fully satisfied by his parents.
There is no infant whose needs are fully satisfied by his parents.Credit: Dreamstime
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The government plans to submit legislation that would divide child support payments among both parents based on each one’s income rather than having only the man pay.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked intends to submit the bill with two or three months, she told the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Tuesday.

The bill will be based on the recommendations by the Shiffman Committee, a panel the government appointed to study the issue back in 2006. But Shaked has set up a task force to examine the committee’s conclusions and make changes.

The government wants to find wording that will be acceptable to all the parties in the governing coalition, and Shaked expects this to take two to three months, she told the Knesset panel.

The Shiffman Committee, headed by Prof. Pinchas Shiffman, submitted its conclusions only in 2012, six years after it was established. But by that time, the justice minister who appointed it, Haim Ramon, had been replaced by Yaakov Neeman, and its recommendations were never enacted into law.

Because the rabbinical courts are responsible for issues of marriage and divorce in Israel, child support payments have been based on Jewish law, under which the father bears full responsibility supporting the children.

But the Shiffman Committee recommended that religious law not apply to child support payments. Instead of assigning the father full responsibility, the payments would be divided between the parents in proportion to each parent’s income and “based on the time they spend caring for the child.”

If the parents are unable to agree on how to divide the payments themselves, the decision would be made by a court registrar, the panel said.

Just a month ago, during a Supreme Court hearing on a child support dispute between two ex-spouses with similar incomes, the Justice Ministry said it had no plans to submit government legislation on the issue in the near future.

But the coalition is currently bitterly divided over another divorce-related legal question – whether to abolish or merely soften a rule granting women almost automatic custody of young children – so legislation on that issue is stuck. Shaked therefore decided to move ahead with the child support bill instead.

At the Supreme Court hearing, when Justice Salim Joubran asked about the status of the child support legislation, government attorney Ruth Gordon responded that there had been no progress on the issue since the Shiffman Committee submitted its report in 2012, and that the ministry had yet to prepare even a first draft of a bill on the subject.

But now that the government has decided to move ahead with the legislation, the Supreme Court may delay its own ruling on the issue, since the proposed new law could make the court case moot.

The Shiffman report’s recommendations sought to achieve two main goals. The first was to promote the welfare of children in divorce cases by setting uniform rules that would reduce legal disputes between the parents over child support.

The second was to promote gender equality in parenting by taking account of each parent’s income and how much time each spent with the child in determining each one’s financial responsibility for the child.

But Bar-Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which conducted an in-depth study of the report’s recommendations, argues that several changes ought to be made in them. Most importantly, it said, the child support to which children would be entitled under the Shiffman Committee’s proposal is significantly lower than the support typically awarded by courts today.

“This means that implementing the proposed arrangement would assuredly increase the dimensions of poverty among children after a divorce,” the center said in a position paper on the issue.

The Shiffman Committee adopted a financial model for calculating child support based on a proposal by economics professor Reuben Gronau, who was a member of the committee, the Rackman Center noted. But the panel ignored competing models proposed by other economists, it said.

This is one of the key issues the task force set up by Shaked plans to consider, after consulting with women’s organizations.

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