An Israeli family court recently handed down a decision hailed as precedent by campaigners for gender equality in divorce.
A Family Court judge in Rishon Letzion ruled that a divorced father will not have to pay child support money to his ex-wife because each took equal parts in raising the children when they were married, and continue to do so since their divorce.
The former husband and wife, who separated 18 months ago, have three children. They split their assets equally and agreed to share parenting time equally between them. The father makes 12,000 shekels ($3,400) per month; the mother makes 13,000 shekels ($3,700). She sued the father for child support, demanding that he pay her 9,000 shekels ($2,600) per month. The wife’s demand is based on Jewish law, which determines that only fathers bear responsibility for child support. Her lawyer also noted that the High Court has upheld this rule, even in cases in which the parenting is shared equally between both parents.
Judge Yaakov Cohen’s ruling observed, however, that the times are a-changing. “Based on accumulative experience in the family courts,” he wrote, “it appears that a continuously growing number of fathers take a meaningful and real part in raising their children, and the courts’ rulings must be fitted to the sweeping changes in family relations in our times.”
“I knew how to be a mom and she knew how to be a dad,” said the father, explaining that they helped each other throughout the marriage, and whenever one of them was more occupied with studies, the other pitched in and helped more with housework and child rearing. “The basis was partnership,” he claimed.
Judge Cohen dismissed any assertion that fathers seeking equal parenting arrangements just to avoid child support payments could abuse egalitarian rulings. “Just as it would not be proper to think that a mother demands custody of her children just to enlarge the child support payments she receives, so I find it improper to assume that a father who demands joint custody does so because of foreign, financial motives,” he determined.
The father’s lawyer, Attorney Maya Rotenberg, asserted that there is no justification for making the father pay more than the mother for child support, when they shared the burden equally during the marriage. “We live in an era in which women work and support their families. If the father was made to pay child support beyond his means, his basic right to be with his children would have been breached.”
In August, a similar decision was handed down by Judge Yoram Shaked in Tel Aviv.