Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman announced Thursday that he accepts the recommendations of the Schnitt Committee, to abolish the Tender Years Clause that grants divorcing mothers automatic custody of children up to age 6.
The committee of experts and representatives of the religious establishment, headed by Prof. Dan Schnitt, sat for over 6.5 years before handing in its final report. A majority of the members voted to repeal the Tender Years Clause and replace it with a more egalitarian model.
The recommendations abolish the concept of custody and replace it with "parenting arrangements" that seek to maximize the child's contact with both parents and emphasize parental responsibility toward children.
A representative of a large women's group and a militant feminist representative of the academic world, along with a female mediator who also sat on the committee, handed in a minority opinion opposing repeal of the Tender Years Clause. They claim that any egalitarian approach to post-divorce parenting will be used by men in order to blackmail women into concessions. Pro-family groups make the same claim with regard to the Tender Years Clause, saying that it allows women to blackmail men into concessions.
The Schnitt Committee's recommendations are already having an effect on custody cases, but they still have many obstacles to overcome before becoming the law of the land. MK Zehava Galon of Meretz, who will probably lead the faction soon, came out swinging against the Justice Minister's decision, saying that "cancelling the Tender Years Clause in a country where there is no option for civil marriage and divorce will exacerbate the inequality that women suffer from in Israel."
Labor party head MK Shelly Yechimovich also denounced the decision: "The Justice Minister made a benighted and chauvinistic decision that hurts children first and foremost, by negating the natural maternal custody of divorced parents' children."
MK Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home), who heads the Children's Rights Committee, said that he is "unconvinced that there is a social or educational need to change the Tender Years Clause." He added that he has yet to read any professional research showing a need to change the status quo.
MK Nachman Shai (Kadima), on the other hand, was happy with the recommendations: "The parental responsibility advocated by the committee will enhance the meaningful relationship of the child with both parents, even in the case of painful divorce," he said.
MK Tzipi Livni, who created the Schnitt Committee when she was Justice Minister, has yet to state her position on the matter. She has adopted a decidedly feminist political tack over the past few years and may find it hard to support the committee's recommendations without alienating many of her potential voters.