Social workers, psychologists to aid religious courts in divorce

According to Welfare Minister Herzog's proposal, a unit will be established in courts of all creeds to provide support for judges in complicated cases.

Rabbinic court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Rabbinic court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Social workers and psychologists could soon become an integral part of the country's religious legal system, with the goal of streamlining and improving the divorce process, The Jerusalem Post was told last week. Under a proposal by Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, which has been approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and but still needs to be legislated, a unit will be established in all religious courts - Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druse - to provide the judges with support in complicated cases, and help them deliberate intricate issues such as guardianship, alimony, division of financial assets and child custody. "This will reduce pressure not only on the courts but also on the couple getting divorced," Herzog said in a statement, adding "It's a groundbreaking step in a very positive direction." The unit will comprise social workers and psychologists from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry but will come under the authority of an already existing department in the magistrate's court system. It will be based on a similar network that serves the country's secular legal system since 1997. There are 14 such units operating nationwide. A spokeswoman for Herzog estimated that the units could be up and running in the religious courts system within the next year. She said the minister has been working on the project for more than three years. "There was some resistance from the Rabbinic Courts but now this project has their backing, as well as the support of [haredi Sephardi party] Shas," she said. According to ministry figures, more than 6,000 families are referred to the currently existing units each year and 60 percent of those divorce cases are resolved before even reaching court. Susan Weiss, founding director of the Center for Women's Justice, which is an advocate for change within the religious legal system, said that if such a unit is formed it would be essential for "the state to insist that the professionals are appointed on merit and to ensure that women and secular professionals were not discriminated against. "It is also important to make sure that any psychiatric opinions or interventions are not prejudiced by religious doctrine," she said. "We are hopeful that this move will improve the level of service that the public receives in the religious courts system," commented Itzhak Perry, head of the Social Workers Union. "However, it is very important that the social workers who join this unit remain under the auspices of the Justice Ministry. Only then will it be a reliable and professional service."