The Education and Welfare Committee on Monday morning discussed proposals to lower the Tender Years Clause from six years of age to two years of age.
Today, Israel's Tender Years Clause requires that in the case of divorce, children are automatically put in the custody of their mother if even one of the children is under age six, at which point the father can petition for shared custody. However, given that courts rarely alter arrangements, the Tender Years Clause effectively results in nearly all children of divorce being placed in the custody of the mother, regardless of other considerations.
In addition, until the divorce agreements are final - something which can take several years - the non-custodial parent meets their children for one hour once a week at a supervised "contact center" only.
During the discussion Monday, MK Rachel Azaria (Kulanu) said, "No one has parental rights. Children have a right to a safe and comfortable life, and that is what we are discussing. Unfortunately, I often hear people say that we are 'taking away parental rights.' Taking a baby who is still nursing [away from its mother] is not in the child's benefit."
"I want to give you an example. A couple had an autistic child, and divorced because the father was having a hard time handling the child's autism. In court, the father asked for shared custody, and the mother, excited that he wanted to spend time with his child, agreed. He never came to pick his child up from school, and the mother had to open a new discussion in court, but did not have the money for it.
"There is a huge elephant in the room, and that is the anger between divorcing couples. Most couples know how to act maturely and put the good of their children first. A couple discussing the Tender Years Clause is usually in the middle of a power struggle.
"Canceling the Tender Years Clause will lead to unending debates. The most crucial thing for children of divorced parents is that the parents argue for only a short time. Parents need to come to a decision and continue on with life, but we are doing exactly the opposite."
Azaria also discussed the fact that divorcing parents often spar over financial issues.
"Another elephant in the room is the issue of money," she said. "The fight over whether to cancel the Tender Years Clause has financial elements as well, since raising children costs money, and when they stay with one parent, that costs money. People get into financial fights, and we are dragging children into indefinite poverty when we fight over who has to give less."
"The last thing I want to say is that divorce in Israel is equal. It is inconceivable that divorce should take religious law into account, but cancel the Tender Years Clause, which is based on religious law, in the name of equality."