Ministers approve controversial change to child custody laws

The clause states that, in a divorce, mothers automatically get custody of children under age six without taking other conditions into consideration.

A father holds his child [Illustrative] (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A father holds his child [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Automatic custody for divorced mothers of small children may become a thing of the past, after the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved canceling the controversial “early childhood clause” under which, in a divorce, mothers automatically get primary custody of children under age six without taking other conditions into consideration.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel had proposed canceling the clause before she joined the cabinet, and MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) took up the cause afterwards. The ministers approved the bill in November, but the opposition managed to vote it down, and it has now returned to the committee after the requisite six-month waiting period.
Women’s groups and many left-wing lawmakers have strongly opposed canceling the early childhood clause, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vacillated, as well.
Two weeks ago, the ministerial committee postponed the vote on the bill amid loud debate between Shaked and Gamliel, with the latter threatening to resubmit the bill as one from her ministry, which would make it more difficult to block.
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which Shaked leads, approved the bill for a preliminary reading Wednesday, on condition that it does not move forward without the input and approval of the justice, religious services, welfare, health and social equality ministers.
If they don’t reach an agreement within four months, the matter will go back to the ministerial committee.
“This is a sensitive subject,” Shaked said. “We need to reach a broad consensus before making changes. The committee will work to take all the relevant matters into consideration.”
The Justice Ministry plans to review the conclusions of the Schnitt and Shiffman Committees, appointed by past justice ministers to review policies relating to the early childhood clause and child support payments in the past.
In 2008, the Schnitt committee, led by Prof. Dan Schnitt, recommended eliminating the clause because the law’s wording did not consider the welfare of children ages six and up.
Gamliel said the existing law is “archaic and unjust” and the new bill is good news for thousands of families.
“The faster we pass the bill in three readings in the Knesset, the better it will be for everyone, especially these children. I hope that the discrimination between divorced parents will end very soon and that, because of the cancellation [of the early childhood clause] parenting will be totally equal,” Gamliel stated.
Kisch called on MKs to “stand with the children” to pass the bill, saying: “The ministerial committee and most Israelis understand that children deserve to have two parents.”
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On criticized the bill, however, saying it will hurt mothers and children and turn children into bargaining chips and a way to pressure mothers to forfeit child support.
“In the social and judicial situation in Israel, there is no equality,” Gal-On posited.
“Family laws in Israel are governed by the rabbinate, a patriarchal, chauvinist and humiliating institution that takes all power from a woman’s hands when she is getting divorced and makes her dependent on the good will of her ex-husband and rabbis.”