Even though it came 22-years late, when Daphna -- a now-retired mother of two grown children -- received her first child-support payment a few months ago, she “jumped to the sky.”
“It was definitely a victory,” stated the pensioner, who said that at times during the two-decade battle with her ex-husband she thought seriously about giving up on money that would have made her life as a single mother a little easier.
Even though she had obtained a court ruling requiring her ex-husband to contribute toward his children’s upbringing, the chances of ever seeing that money were slim because he was living in the US.
Slim, that is, until three years ago, when Jerusalem and Washington signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for authorities in both countries to legally obtain child maintenance from recalcitrant spouses.
Now, with a growing number of success stories under its belt, the Justice Ministry’s Legal Aid Department, which is responsible for overseeing the process in Israel and working with American authorities, is reaching out to what it estimates could be thousands of individuals who, like Daphna, have almost given up on tracking down and receiving payment from ex-partners.
In Daphna’s case the process was simple.
After providing Legal Aid lawyers with all the documentation, as well as her ex-husband’s social security number, everything was translated into English and turned over to the Americans.
In the US, the paperwork was sent to child-support enforcement authorities, which tracked her children’s father to Texas. Less than a month after he received a formal warning that he was obligated to pay his share of child support, the amount was automatically deducted from his salary.
“I was shocked,” recalled Daphna, who claimed she was owed a total of NIS 800,000 in maintenance. “Only 44 days after submitting all the paperwork I received my first check for $697.”
While the payments have now stopped her ex-husband filed a counter-claim in a US court the boost from the memorandum of understanding and the free help from Legal Aid has made Daphna hopeful she will see justice done in full.
Yael Simchi, supervisor for international child support at Legal Aid, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
on Monday that the chances for success in such cases were “very high.”
“One out of every three cases sees money being collected, and even with the bureaucracy of filling out all the paperwork we believe it is worth it,” she said. “Our team of lawyers is well versed in bringing cases to paying status.”
According to Simchi, who oversees almost all the cases of child support between the US and Israel, $130,000 in maintenance has been received by single parents in Israel from their ex-partners or spouses in the US since the agreement was signed in 2009.
One-third of the 200 cases already processed by Legal Aid have resulted in a first payment, she said.
Simchi explained that the system works both for Israeli residents seeking maintenance from ex-spouses or partners in the US and for US residents seeking child support from here. The legal work is carried out based on the original court ruling, although in some cases there is an option for filing a completely new claim.
She also said that the cases were wide-ranging and not gender-specific, with some men receiving help in obtaining payment from former wives. The couples involved have also been varied, Simchi said, with Israeli-born partners, mixed Israeli-US couples, immigrants, Jews and non-Jews.
“The majority of cases involve women, and many are Israeli-born couples where a few years after the breakdown of the marriage the husband leaves Israel for the US,” she said, estimating there could be thousands more individuals who could benefit from the relatively new agreement.
“Our goal is to break down a barrier that previously existed between those in Israel and those in the US,” she explained, adding that excellent cooperation between her team and American authorities “has made facilitating the memorandum so much easier.”
One young Israel-based mother, who asked not to be named, told the Post
Monday that there was “no doubt” that Legal Aid had provided immense help.
“I read about the agreement in the newspaper and immediately contacted them,” she said. “My husband was meant to pay me NIS 2,200 a month but for years I got nothing.”
Living at home with her mother and raising her now seven-year-old child alone, the woman said that with the help of Simchi and other lawyers she now was receiving a monthly check taken directly from her ex-husband¹s salary in the US.
“In the end everyone gets justice,” she said, describing how her ex-spouse initially had refused to grant her a get a divorce under Jewish law unless she agreed to go without child support.
“He tried holding me with that card, but I was strong because I realized that this money is not for me it’s for my child and I want to give my child the best things in life,” she said.
She urged others in her position not to give up the fight.
“I know it’s hard, but it’s not fair that he can carry on with his life and not have to help raise his child,” said the woman. “It took me many years and I nearly lost my physical and mental health. There were times when I wanted to give up, to live quietly and not deal with it. But now each month, when the checks arrive, I can breathe a little bit easier.”