In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that divorced women should also participate in child support payments. The dramatic ruling brings to an end the current norm, whereby fathers are solely responsible for alimony, even if their wives earn more than they do.
The ruling, handed down by an expanded bench of seven justices, applies in cases where the children are aged 6 to 15, and was in response to petitions lodged by two divorced fathers.
Fathers will continue to pay all child support for children below the age of 6.
The judges also suggested that courts consider whether joint custody is the right arrangement in cases where the parents’ financial situation may not enable optimal care for the children in two separate homes.
“When there is joint custody, and the economic situation of the mother is the same as that of the father or even better, and where both parents have to pay similar sums for the needs of the child during the month, the current law is liable to harm the best interests of the child and to deplete the father’s resources… to the point of actually impairing his ability to keep up his share in the joint custody over time,” Judge Uzi Fogelman wrote in the court’s decision.
Giving the example of one of the appellants, he said, “When you take off apartment rental costs from both parents’ salaries, the respondent [ex-wife] is left with NIS 8,795 [$2,460] while the appellant [the father] has NIS 6,467 [$1,808]. After the appellant pays NIS 2,875 [$800] in child support to the respondent each month… the appellant is left with just NIS 3,592 [$1,000] to cover his own regular expenses costs and all the expenses of the three children for half the month. In contrast, the respondent has NIS 11,670 [$3,260] for exactly the same needs.”
The ex-husband’s “ability to meet the full needs of his children while they are with him falls far short of the appellant’s ability, creating a significant economic disparity between the two homes” that could be harmful to the children’s well-being, he wrote.
The gap could affect the emotional state of the children, their relationships with each parent and their willingness to cooperate with the joint custody arrangements.
“In the absence of a relevant reason to distinguish between the father and the mother regarding the obligation to provide child support between the ages of 6 and 15, there is no escaping the conclusion that the current law is discriminatory [and] based on general and stereotypical assumptions regarding the division of gender roles.
“Truth be told, the core of family law in Israel — the laws of marriage and divorce — are characterized by a lack of equality between men and women,” Judge Noam Solberg said.
“According to Jewish law, the get [divorce agreement] is in the hands of the man — when he wants to, he’ll grant it, when he doesn’t, he’ll refuse.
“Despite this, there is no justification for unequal division of child support payments.”
Child support had to be considered as part of the divorce process, he said.
Judge Dafna Barak-Erez said that in situations where the parents could not jointly afford joint custody and where harm could consequently be caused to the children, the courts should review decisions to order joint custody.
She explained how the new process would work. The courts will determine the percentage each parent should bear of the costs for regular items such as food. A special mechanism will then be created to work out costs for items such as clothing, books and medical treatments. And unexpected costs will be divided according to each parent’s financial situation.
Judge Menachem Mazuz said, “Although joint custody appears to be a proper and natural solution, it’s actually a ‘luxury’ that has a price that not all separated couples can afford. It’s therefore appropriate to give prior consideration to the parents’ economic ability to maintain joint custody and to the implications of such custody for the welfare of the children in each specific case.”
He recommended that courts consider other alternatives, even if are unequal, especially during the period immediately following the parents’ separation, in order to reduce harm to the parents and the children where financing two homes would be detrimental.
One of the petitioners, identified as D., is a divorced father who has been forced to pay child support to his ex-wife even though the parents share custody and the ex-wife earns more than he does.
“We won, the State of Israel won!” he said of the court’s ruling.
D. criticized the way the issue had been handled but not resolved by the Knesset for years. “Light has triumphed over darkness here, and the body called the Supreme Court has proved that it protects us.”
The details of the petitioners’ divorce agreement will now go back to the family courts to be reviewed in line with the ruling.