Divorced dads march message home

Group of fathers protests unfair custody system by heading to PM's Office.

dads march 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dads march 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A group of fathers who claim that the system deciding custody battles in divorce cases is unfair to men brought their message home Wednesday by marching from Latrun to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. "We want equality in the system between fathers and mothers," Ya'acov Ben-Issachar, head of the Forum for Our Children's Future told The Jerusalem Post in an interview, as his group of six fathers neared the Jerusalem foothills of Sha'ar Hagai. "We want both parents to get automatic custody of their children." "Our slogan for the day is: 'Social workers are bringing a holocaust upon Israeli children,'" continued Ben-Issachar, himself a father who has been fighting his ex-wife and the authorities for the past seven-and-a-half years to gain joint custody of his 12-year-old daughter. According to Yehuda Koren of the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, who was marching along with the fathers, many Israeli men are denied even visitation rights with their children due to a process which involves social workers and psychiatrists making evaluations about the fathers without ever meeting them. "In Israel, 80 percent of the custodian rights are automatically given to the mother. There are fathers who are not able to see their children for months and months," said Koren, referring to the 1962 Custodianship Law that "presumes" the mother will look after the child until the age of six unless the court is convinced she is incapable of doing so. "We even came across a case where a psychiatric evaluation of two different fathers was identical and the doctor who had written the report had never met either of the men in question. There is no science to this. Who ever heard of a medical doctor making his decision without meeting the patient?" Those involved in Wednesday's demonstration, which also demanded a Knesset committee be created to look into the problem, highlighted Health Ministry statistics that close to 200 divorced men commit suicide each year. Statistics on the Health Ministry's Web site indicate that divorced or widowed men aged 25-44 are eight times more likely to commit suicide than married men in the same age group. Koren and Ben Issachar blame the suicides on a system that is biased and puts too much pressure on the fathers. "I have been in touch with many fathers who simply have no more strength to fight the system in order to see their children," said Ben-Issachar. "It is one of the biggest problems in Israeli society today." Nachum Ido, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs and head of a committee overseeing the role of social workers presiding over custody battles, discounts Ben Issachar and Koren's claims that the system is unfair and said the statistics do not cite the reasons for the suicides. "First, you have to understand there are always two sides to every argument and we, as social workers, have to worry first and foremost about the welfare of the children," Ido said. "There are some couples that do terrible things to their children in order to get back at each other," he continued. "That is why we have to take cases to court. Most times, however, the decision of the social worker is accepted by both parties." Ido said that he did not know of any cases where the official process had caused a divorcee to commit suicide. "What is more alarming is the number of children who have to seek psychiatric counseling because of their parents' behavior. That number is probably higher than the number of divorced fathers committing suicide."