Children on their way to school.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The spat between Likud and Bayit Yehudi MKs over a bill relating to child custody – which was holding up nearly all legislation for the last 10 days – was settled overnight on Monday.
Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bayit Yehudi faction chairwoman Shuli Moalem-Refaeli agreed that the age of automatic child custody going to the mother in case of a divorce be lowered from six to the word “toddler.”
The compromise will allow the bill to move forward after it passed a preliminary vote in May, and the House Committee is expected to approve it on Wednesday for a first reading.
“I believe that the agreement we reached... will bring a dramatic change in the legal and daily situation of divorced parents, for the good of their children,” Kisch said. “There is no greater satisfaction for an elected official than to help the weakest people, as in this case. I will continue to act for the good of the children.”
Although the major obstacle was removed, coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud) asked coalition parties to avoid proposing controversial bills in the coming weeks, to facilitate the approval of the 2019 state budget.
In recent weeks, Kisch used the House Committee to block all Bayit Yehudi bills because of his dispute with Moalem-Refaeli over child custody. He also refused to vacate his seat as chairman of the committee in part of a planned rotation in which he would become Interior Committee chairman.
In response to Kisch holding up all Bayit Yehudi bills, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of Bayit Yehudi, did not convene the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week and it only voted on one bill last week.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is the chairman of Bayit Yehudi, was particularly incensed over Kisch blocking the “Ariel University bill,” which would have the university in the West Bank be under the jurisdiction of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, as opposed to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which would allow for it to eventually open a medical school.
The compromise between Kisch and Moalem-Refaeli followed a dispute between them that has continued for over two years.
Kisch sought to eliminate automatic custody entirely and allow judges to decide who gets custody according to the best interests of the child. Some opponents of automatic custody argue that age six has become a deadline by which mothers try to get divorced, and that it reflects an outdated view on gender and parenting.
However, when Kisch’s proposal came to a vote in 2015, Moalem-Refaeli and others in the coalition voted against it, saying it would turn children into bargaining chips and weakens women’s standing in divorce proceedings, and that young children need greater stability in their lives. Her version of the bill would have lowered the age of automatic custody to four.
By using the word “toddler,” and not a number, in the bill, the two lawmakers will be able to negotiate what that should mean. Currently, the legal definition of a toddler is up to age three.
“Parents are the natural guardians of their children,” Moalem-Refaeli said, “and even when they decide to divorce, they must put the good of the child first and his need and their responsibility for a continuous connection with [the child]. We cannot allow children to be used as negotiating cards, and parents must maintain stability in a time when their lives are shaken up.”
Therefore, Moalem-Refaeli said she is “working on passing a bill that will be good for children and parents. We took great steps toward passing the bill in a first reading, and we will continue.”
In recent months, divorced fathers organized a pressure group against the custody law, with hundreds joining the Likud since then. Moalem-Refaeli has received death threats from divorced fathers over her stance.