The revolution in Israeli family law is no longer a dream or imaginary but a reality that is alive and kicking. The change is socio-legal and undoubtedly influences all of Israeli society.
There is no dispute that the outcome of any divorce or separation proceeding in which children are involved can always be examined by two questions: the question of child custody and their upkeep, and the question of their financial support. In the not so distant past, just some years ago, and in fact until the publication of two main reports on the subject the Shifman Report and the Shnit Report - there was a real legal certainty, and somebody coming to court could easily prepare for the findings of the debate. It was clear that the custody of minors would go to the mother and financial support for the children would be paid for by the father. The amounts would also be ruled upon and fell in a known and clear range, more or less.
As said, until not very long ago, there was a possible scenario in which the mother earned three or four times that of the father but still did not pay even one shekel towards the child support, and the father bore the sole obligation to support the children. The situation was undoubtedly unequal and reflected a dismal reality for one of the parties. However, this situation has changed, not through legislation, but through a socio-legal revolution implemented by the family court judges.
Consequently, every divorce or separation proceeding in which children are involved is examined by two questions, the question of child custody and their upkeep, and the question of their financial support. Due to the revolutionary and dramatic developments on the issue of the custody of minors, which impacts directly on the financial support of minors, it is not possible to review the latter question without first understanding the former question.
I will mention here that I argue that there is no other legal question since the establishment of the State of Israel that has undergone such a dramatic change, in effect a change of 180 degrees, like the issue of child custody in family matters and in such a short time. And what are we talking about. Until the publication of the Shnit Committee conclusions "joint custody" was the rarest of terms in the family courts. In fact, if you wanted a judge to approve an agreement in which it was written that the parents had agreed on joint custody, the judge would refuse. It was really like that. In order to get an agreement like that approved the lawyer representing the case had to bring approval from a social worker or psychologist that it was indeed for the good of the child. Today joint custody is the default option for the family court. In the past the belief was that the parents had to be in optimal and constant contact in order to be joint parents, not arguing, living close by and conducting a dialogue about the child on a daily basis. Today if there is no contact, the family court will immediately set joint custody almost as a preventative act or "treatment" for the lack of contact.
About one year after the appointment of the Shnit Committee on 5.6.06, another committee was appointed. The committee's aim was to examine the subject of child support in the State of Israel. The committee headed by Prof. Pinhas Shifman formulated the Right of the Child to Economic Support Bill 2012 5773. Its finding were submitted on 21.11.12 to the then Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman. This date constitutes a dramatic turning point in the debate on child support.
The starting point on which the committee recommended was that the obligation falls upon both parents to financially support their children according to their economic abilities and in relation to the amount of time that the children live with each one of them. The amount of the child support will be set according to mathematical formulae based on these two parameters. And in practice a calculator has been published on many Internet sites that makes it possible to "calculate" using it, the amount of financial support that will be set. I repeat and reiterate that the law has not been changed, the support of young children must still be practiced and maintained and the ruling by individual law setting absolute support by the father until aged 15. Here is an example of such a ruling that proves my point that we are talking about a revolution: a ruling that was handed down by Judge Vilner in the Haifa District Court began a "snowball" of a revolutionary policy, which is a policy of reducing child support through to cancelling joint custody. And these are her words: "The obligation of the father to pay child support stands in my opinion only in those cases where the minors are found in the custody of the mother, and that it is she who directly bears the necessary expenses of the children out of an obligation to support them" …… "It seems to me right to set a reduction in the rate of the father's support in cases of joint custody at about 25% of the amount of support that the father would be obligated to pay if the children were in the sole custody of the mother."
As Judge Yaakov Cohen ruled in a judgment handed down in December 2013, which set that parents with joint custody spending an equal amount of time with the children and having an equal salary need no child support at all! In February 2014, the honorable Judge Tamar Snonit Forer ruled that when parents hold joint custody with similar salaries (if not equal) and equal division in the burden of raising the children and thus the expenses of the children, there is no need for child support. However, the allowance for the disabled child would actually go to the father because that child spent more time with the father. The honorable judge also asks: "Why should one parent carry the burden of child support alone and why in the circumstances of this case should one of the parents pay the second one child support?"
A number of additional examples that have taken place recently: The honorable Judge Yehoram Shaked has joined the revolution and published a judgment that ruled that under personal law it is not necessary to pay child and housing support. In a similar vein, the honorable Judge Iris Arbel has also ruled under personal law from her seminary that joint custody does not require child support. These judges have been joined by Shiri Hyman in a ruling that was not published that sets child support at just NIS 600 per child per night for three children.
These are just a few small examples from dozens of rulings which represent a dramatic change in child support judgments. The future is already here and it is not clear if the Supreme Court will also join, or perhaps it will speak out strongly against the new ruling. Only time will tell.
The author is the Founding Partner of the Eymi Bechor-Bouni Law Firm