Israeli Ministry Refuses to Recognize Non-biological Mothers of Lesbian Couple's Babies, Defying Court Order

The interior ministry continues to ignore court orders that demand the state extend full parental status to the non-biological mother children being raised by two women

Nir Kafri

The state continues to ignore or to postpone the execution of court orders instructing it to extend full parental status to the non-biological mother of children being raised by two women.

Haaretz has learned of many cases in which registration is stuck in the Interior Ministry for months. Women who were recognized as the parent of older children have reported excessive delays when registering subsequent children. This leaves the nonbiological mother devoid of legal rights or duties vis-a-vis their children, including the right to make medical decisions or to obtain legal documents for them. In addition, the unrecognized mother is not eligible for tax benefits or child allowances.

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Lawyers dealing with such problems claim that these delays exist despite advances in court rulings that, since 2016, have been giving even retroactive parental rights, even in cases where the applications were made late. Some rulings allow nonbiological mothers to be registered at the time of birth in hospitals.

אילוסטרציה - אמהות גינה עגלה
Tomer Appelbaum

Many couples have been told that only one person — Meir Amsalem, the archivist of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority — handles all such applications. As a result, couples such as Sigal Nadejda and Yanna Volovikov have been waiting since early November, when they filed their application in Kfar Sava. They were told that the file was sent to Jerusalem and no answer has arrived yet and that Amsalem could not be reached.

A couple from Hadera who asked to remain anonymous because they feared Amsalem would further postpone acting on their application to recognize both women as the parents of their son, said they waited for a long time for something that heterosexual couples take for granted. They encountered numerous bureaucratic obstacles and unresponsive clerks. “We need this for work — it’s simply a nightmare” said their child’s biological mother.

In some cases it seems the Interior Ministry sees itself as being above the courts. Sarah and Yael Hass, of Modi’in, requested that Sarah, the non-birth mother, be recognized as a parent of their second daughter. They received court approval in December, with the state saying it had no objections. Sarah was previously registered as the mother of the couple’s older child, by court order. After months of waiting, they inquired and were told the file is under review. Then Sarah received a call from Amsalem, who told her that since the application had been submitted more than 90 days after their daughter was born, Sarah could not be recognized as a parent.

Sharon Spinat Searay, a lawyer, says that in December she turned to Amsalem after many women had complained about months’-long delays in registering. “He said that it has to remain something only he can do since he checks if the courts make any mistakes in issuing their rulings. I asked him about rulings that had been agreed on but he still argued that perhaps the state attorneys had made a mistake. ‘I only register these women after checking that the court order is correct and that nothing can be appealed. I have some requests that were filed over 90 days after the birth of the children and I’m not sure how those will be handled.’ Thus, Amsalem and the ministry operate as authorities that are above the courts and they do as they please,” Spinat Searay said.

The population authority said in response that the archives deal with registration after careful examination and that the claim that they disregard court orders is groundless. With regard to the Hasses, it said “there is no refusal to register them but the documents must be examined in conjunction with the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, which handled the case. Amsalem is compliying with regulations.”

Haaretz reported in February that the Interior Ministry was disregarding court orders to register nonbiological mothers right after birth. Hospital clerks had refused to register them and population authority officials claimed court rulings were unacceptable even though the state had not requested a stay of execution and the attorney general had instructed the state to obey court orders. Five couples who had obtained such orders have still not obtained full parental recognition.

In response, the Interior Ministry said hospital officials were not authorized to grant parental recognition in these cases.

“The rule of law has been breached here” says Hagai Kalai, a lawyer for Israel’s National LGBT Task Force, known as the Aguda. “The authorities are ignoring court rulings as a matter of course. We are considering our response, since this is more serious than we’re used to. Winning in court becomes meaningless.”

Even though hundreds of these parental approval rulings have been issued, it appears that the state is heightening its opposition to granting parental rights to nonbiological parents, making unreasonable demands of applicants. The prospective parents, for example, have to prove they have not been convicted of sexual offenses. If the application is made late, the couple has to undergo the arduous process of seeking adoption rights, in violation of a 2016 court ruling ordering the state to allow for a quick and efficient registration process.

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said she was shocked by this situation: “These women want to create a family yet have to prove they are not sex offenders. They face many obstacles that straight people do not have to face. What is this? All they want is to raise children, not gain access to the Dimona nuclear reactor. It’s a basic right of every woman: This is misogyny mixed with chauvinism and hatred of anyone who is different. I submitted a query to the Justice Ministry but have not yet received a response.”

In a response, the Justice Ministry said it would address the claims. “There has been no hardening of our positions but rather compliance with earlier principles in an effort to ensure equitable implementation. The attorney general has instructed the formation of a team to examine the recognition of parental rights, which will submit its recommendations in a timely manner. Until then the guidelines stand.”