Israel: Ministers Set to Approve "Custody Revolution" in Divorce Cases

Men's group says bill by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni doesn't go far enough.

Ministers set to approve ‘custody revolution' in divorce cases



The ministerial committee on legislation is set to approve a governmental bill by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday that could result in divorce cases being settled more fairly.

Livni's associates termed the bill nothing less than a "legal and societal revolution."

The current law automatically grants custody of children under six to their mother unless there are special reasons not to, due to a controversial clause about children's "tender years."

A committee Livni appointed, which was headed by Prof. Dan Schnitt, found that the tender years clause resulted in custody for all of a couple's children being granted to the mother when one of the children is under six, in order to keep the children together.

When the child became six, custody was not reconsidered, so as not to change the lifestyle to which the children had grown accustomed.

Since the Schnitt Committee recommended eliminating the tender years clause altogether in 2008, judges already started granting joint custody for children under six. But Livni decided to compromise and keep the clause in tact for children up to age two.

Livni's spokeswoman stressed that even among children two and under, if professionals and welfare authorities recommend that the father be given custody, judges would be permitted to make such a decision for the good of the child.

The bill recommends declaring both parents legally responsible for their children and guarantees the rights of the children to a relationship with both their parents. For the first time, the children would need to be consulted about their future.

Divorcing couples would need to seek mediation before going to court and are to be asked to submit to the court an agreement about education and health issues and how to divide their children's time.

Courts are to be given the means to fine and punish parents who violate the terms of agreement. The bill clarifies what happens when a parent wants to leave the country.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said changing the tender years clause before removing divorce from the authority of the Chief Rabbinate would harm divorcing mothers and their children.

She said she would propose an alternative bill that would maintain the clause for children under six but create more exceptions that would enable fathers to be granted custody or at least give them more time with their children.

"In the name of equality, Livni's proposal adopts policies that favor men," Gal-On said.

"Livni put the cart before the horse and dealt with what is ideal and not with what is happening. Fathers still earn more than mothers, who often leave their jobs to raise their children."

Guy Raveh, who heads the organization Shared Parenting = The Good of the Child, called Livni's decision to keep the tender years clause intact for children up to two "a political compromise that will prevent necessary societal change."

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