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Precedent: Court Rules Equality Trumps Child Support Payments

Family Court judge says 'courts' rulings must be fitted to the sweeping changes in family relations in our times.' Feminists aghast.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 12/17/2013, 1:48 PM

Divorce (illustration)
Divorce (illustration)
Thinkstock

A ruling by a Family Court judge in Rishon Letzion is being hailed as a precedent by campaigners for gender equality in divorce, reports Maariv.

Judge Yaakov Cohen ruled that a divorced father will not have to pay child support money to his ex-wife, because they took equal parts in raising the children when they were married, and have continued to do so since their divorce.

The former couple have three children, and they separated 18 months ago, splitting their assets equally and agreeing to share parenting time equally between them. The father makes 12,000 shekels ($3,400) per month, and the mother makes 13,000 shekels ($3,700). She sued the father for child support, demanding that he pay her 9,000 shekels ($2,600) per month.

The demand is based on Jewish law, which determines that only fathers bear responsibility for child support. The woman's lawyer also noted that the High Court has upheld this rule, even in cases in which the parenting is shared equally between both parents.

Judge Cohen observed, however, that the times are a-changing. “Based on accumulative experience in the family courts,” he wrote, “it appears that a continuously growing number of fathers take a meaningful and real part in raising their children, and the courts' rulings must be fitted to the sweeping changes in family relations in our times.”

The father noted that he and his wife helped each other throughout the marriage, and whenever one of them was more occupied with studies, the other pitched in and helped more with house work and child rearing. “The basis was partnership,” he claimed. “I knew how to be a mom and she knew how to be a dad.”

Judge Cohen dismissed the claim made by opponents of egalitarian rulings like his, that they could be abused by fathers who will ask for equal parenting arrangements just to avoid child support payments. “Just as it would not be proper to think that a mother demands custody of her children just to enlarge the child support payments she receives, so I find it improper to assume that a father who demands joint custody does so because of foreign, financial motives,” he determined.

The father's lawyer, Attorney Maya Rotenberg, told Maariv that there is no justification for making the father pay more than the mother for child support, when they shared the burden equally during the marriage. “We live in an era in which women work and support their families. If the father was made to pay child support beyond his means, his basic right to be with his children would have been breached.”

Judge Cohen's ruling may not be the first of its kind, however: in August, a similar decision was handed down by Judge Yoram Shaked in Tel Aviv. 

Feminists are opposed to the rulings, which some see as forming a new trend. “Egalitarian parenting is a welcome phenomenon, but this is an anomalous case that a judge turned into a model for all of society,” opined Dr. Esther Herzog, according to Maariv.

"The judges want to be the reformers and gain fame and recognition at women's expense,” she accused, “but this is done on the backs of the weakest women. This case does not reflect reality. In how many cases does the woman make more than the man? In how many cases do the men participate in raising the children like the women? This is an unbearable pretension to create change through the courts and not through the Knesset.”

Leading feminist voices also oppose egalitarian reform in Israel's divorce laws. Two public committees that were appointed by the government recommended reforms in parenting rights and child support, but feminist opponents vowed to "bury" their recommendations. More than seven years since the committees were appointed, and long after they made their recommendations, there is still stiff opposition in the Knesset to attempts to legislate them into law.

Israeli fathers' rights and pro-family activists claim that Israeli divorced fathers pay anomalously high child support, in comparison to other OECD countries.