The Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided Sunday to establish a team of ministers from the four Coalition parties, to decide the fate of a bill that would make Israel's family courts the default venue for deciding divorce cases between Jews. The Jewish Home failed to deliver on a previous threat to veto the bill.
The team of ministers will have 45 days to try and reach agreent over the bill, which was proposed by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), who heads the Knesset's Committee for Advancement of the Status of Women. If the team fails to reach agreement, the bill will once again be brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which will vote on it.
The draft law would end the current situation, in which rabbinical courts and family courts have similar authority to try divorce cases. As a result of this duality, the court that tries a divorce case is the one that opened a file first. Sometimes, this results in a "race" between the husband and wife – with the man often trying to open the file in the rabbinical court before the woman opens a file in the family court, and vice versa.
Advocates of the bill say that this “race” creates an incentive for speedily turning to the courts, and lessens the incentive for trying to work out the dispute by more peaceful means.
The new law, if passed, would determine that if there is no agreement between the divorcing man and woman on which court will try their case, the case will automatically be tried in the family court.
There is widespread perception that rabbinical courts are more friendly to men, while family courts are more friendly to women. This is disputed by some men's rights activists, who claim that both systems are currently anti-male. The family courts were established by Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak in the 1990s, and more than half of the family court judges are women. Rabbinical Court judges are all men.
MK Lavie said Sunday after the decision: “I am happy that in the Jewish Home, too, people understand the importance of the subject, and I believe that we will be able to reach agreement. The situation today is that the state in effect gives the sides an incentive for running to open a divorce file as quicly as possible. This absurd situation, in which whoever draws first is the winner, which does not exist anywhere else in the world, worsens the conflict, wastes public money, and mostly leaves the children scarred between parents who wage a bitter war against each other. The bill will reduce the number of divorces by making sure all possibilities to achieve reconciliation are given a chance, and there will be a better chance that the divorce itself will be carried out in a peaceful way.”
In Jewish divorces, the rabbinical courts are currently the only ones that can grant a divorce decree. However, family courts are the only ones that can set the child support payments. The bill would grant the family courts precedence on custody and division of property as well.
Deputy Religions Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) vowed earlier this week that his party would veto the bill, noting that the Coalition agreement gives the party the right to shoot down any legislation it disapproves of, if it pertains to relations between religion and state.
While feminist politicians say that rabbinical courts are anti-women and reflect a patriarchal mindset, pro-male and pro-family activists say that the family courts are much more biased, and in the opposite direction. They note that Jewish religion is pro-family, and that men's rights are balanced out by male responsibilities, and by privileges granted to women.