Child custody bill set for first reading with mixed messages

The two debating sides did not agree on whether each parent’s financial situation, and who primarily took care of the children in the previous two years, should be taken into account.

January 17, 2018 13:54
3 minute read.
MK YIFAT SHASHA-BITON, chairwoman of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, si

MK YIFAT SHASHA-BITON, chairwoman of the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, signs an agreement for responsibility in advertising yesterday at the annual Marketing Conference for Children and Young Adults in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Debate on a bill to reduce the age of automatic child custody for mothers grew heated on Wednesday, and the legislation was approved for a first reading in the plenum next week with articles that contradict one another.

The two camps that have been feuding over the bill for the past two years, reached a compromise on Tuesday, that the age of automatic child custody going to the mother in case of a divorce be lowered from six to the word “toddler.”

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However, there were other elements that they did not agree on, such as whether each parent’s financial situation, and who primarily took care of the children in the previous two years, should be taken into account in custody disputes.

The camps are not clearly divided on coalition- opposition or gender lines. Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) has been leading the side that wants to cancel automatic custody entirely, saying that the best interests of the child should come first, and Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, backed mostly by female MKs from the coalition and the opposition, seeks for the age to be lowered only to four, because otherwise children are turned into bargaining chips.

In the end, the joint meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport, and Child Welfare committees authorized for a first reading a bill that contradicts itself, and says both matters will and will not be taken into consideration. The joint committee will have to decide which version of both articles to keep in the bill before it goes to a second and third (final) reading in the plenum, and whether to retain the current legal definition of “toddler,” which is age three and under.

In addition, the bill includes an article from Kisch’s version, which says both parents have the right to be their children’s guardian, as well as one from Moalem-Refaeli’s version, which says that children have the right to “stability and continuity.”

Knesset Education Committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas), who led the joint committee, said that the financial aspect will be erased from the bill entirely before a final vote.

Knesset Child Welfare Committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu), who is on Kisch’s side of the debate, said financial matters were not supposed to be included in the legislation at all, and accused the other camp of “bullying,” while being “those who try to claim that there’s violence against them.”

“This faux-feminism is perpetuating gender- based ideas, which no longer have any place. It is not just one parent who cares about children,” she said. “There are many women who are hoping for this change, but I am being attacked by women’s organizations.”

According to Shasha-Biton, the bill has great significance for Israeli society and for abolishing “old-fashioned ideas of gender that existed up until now.”

Moalem-Refaeli, however, accused the other side of violence, and called its version of the bill “shocking.”

In Kisch’s version, she said, “it’s clear that the issue of who took care of the child in the past two years won’t be taken into account, and only who is financially stronger will matter.

“The message to parents is that if you are poor, you can’t be a parent... that parenthood is bought with money. This will never pass. You cannot see the good of the child.

You lied to me and treated me violently and bullied me,” Moalem-Refaeli lamented.

Margi accused both sides of obstructionism, pointing out that the bill has essentially been stuck for more than two years, and saying: “The good of the child is not just on one side. There are different opinions. There aren’t bullies on one side and enlightened people on the other.”

The dispute over the child custody bill held up all new legislation within the coalition in recent weeks. Kisch used his role as Knesset House Committee chairman to block all Bayit Yehudi bills from making progress. In response, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of Bayit Yehudi, canceled the last two Ministerial Committee for Legislation meetings. Both sides agreed to lift the obstacles following Tuesday’s compromise.

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