Danish dad stuck in bureaucratic dead end

Non-Jewish father of Israeli child can't work but must child support.

Danish Tonny 224.88 (photo credit: Ruth Eglash )
Danish Tonny 224.88
(photo credit: Ruth Eglash )
The non-Jewish father of an Israeli child has found himself in a Catch 22 situation: The State of Israel will not issue him a work permit or permanent resident visa, yet expects him to pay child support of NIS 3,500 a month. "I am trapped in a very stressful situation," says Tonny Bruun Madsen, a Danish national who moved here two years ago with his now ex-wife and son, both of whom received automatic citizenship under the Law of Return. "I've been ordered to pay child support even though I'm not officially allowed to work." According to Madsen, he and his wife separated not long after arriving here and when she informed the Interior Ministry that they were no longer together, the office refused to continue processing his status request based on his marriage. "When my work visa ran out in March, the [Interior] Ministry would not renew it," he says, adding that for the past six months he has been forced to leave the country every three months, when his tourist visa expired, and then return on a new one. Meanwhile, the divorce is proceeding and in July, the Ramat Gan Family Court ordered Madsen to pay the child support of NIS 3,500 a month, nearly twice the average asked of single fathers. "How am I expected to pay that money if I cannot work?" he asks. "I'm not here to take anything from the state. I have the ability to work, but I feel like I am being thrown down at every turn." Asked why he does not return to his home country, Madsen responds: "I could do that, I could go back to Denmark tomorrow, but I want to be here and be a father for my son." An Interior Ministry official said that because the residency request was originally based on marital status and that situation had suddenly changed, Madsen must now use an alternative route to obtain a permanent visa and work permit. She said that his case was being processed. "There are literally thousands of cases where men are forced to pay [child support] beyond their means," says Gil Ronen, head of the Familists group, which lobbies for fathers' rights. Earlier this week the Knesset's Public Petitions Committee heard from disabled fathers ordered to pay high child support despite relying on social welfare benefits as their main source of income. Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kadari, director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan University and an expert in family law, says, however, that it is not the state that is ordering the men to pay, but rather the child who is asking the fathers to meet their parental responsibilities. "What seems at issue in this [Madsen's] case is the unusually high amount he has been asked to pay given his circumstance," she says, adding that child support usually falls between NIS 1,500 and NIS 2,000 for one child. "The courts generally try to find a balance between the needs of the child, which exist regardless of the parents' capability, and the situation of the parents." While The Jerusalem Post was not able to obtain a comment from the judge who issued Madsen's child support award, Halperin-Kadari - who is not connected to this specific case - believes that the high amount could be linked to the fact that Madsen did not appear at the custody hearing in July. (Madsen says that the date was brought forward and he could not read the summons, which was written in Hebrew.) "It could have been because he did not show up," she theorizes. "However, while it is not very common, there are some cases where men are particularly discriminated against during divorce proceedings." Another possibility, says Halperin-Kadari, is that the award was high because Madsen is being represented by legal aid. "Unfortunately, because family law is so specialized, many of the lawyers working for legal aid are not qualified in this area," she says, adding that those appointed for tourists are often particularly inappropriate choices. "In many cases the clients' rights are not safeguarded and their [lawyers'] work is poor." A request for a response from Madsen's legal aid lawyer was denied. "I am quickly losing my faith in this country," says Madsen. "My lawyer is supposed to be on my side, but she refuses to put up a fight for me."