Will Joint Custody for Children of Divorce Become the Norm in Israel?

mother holding young babyWhen Israeli couples divorce, the mother receives custody of children under age 6 by default. The father can petition the court to get custody, but it’s unusual for him to get it. After a campaign by fathers’ groups, the Schnitt Commission was formed to investigate the issue. They are recommending that the default arrangment for young children be changed to joint custody.

The main reasons the commission wishes to assign joint custody are as follows:

  • The current rule is sexist—there’s no reason to assume that mothers do better than fathers.
  • Studies show that children do best when both parents are involved in their lives. Children need emotional stability. They manage fine when they have two homes, as long as they are emotionally secure. And having access to both parents helps ensure this.

But the women’s welfare organizations wish to maintain the status quo. They argue that:

  • In Canada and Australia, where joint custody is currently the norm, the situation has led to disastrous results.
  • The mother is almost always the one with the closer relationship to the children.
  • Fathers tend to have more money and stamina to wage a court battle for primary custody. Women tend to give up fighting sooner, to protect their children from the hostility.
  • In Israel, the need for a man to give a get (religious divorce) of his own free will gives him one more weapon to pressure his ex-wife to give up a demand for full custody.

One woman interviewed in the magazine of newspaper Makor Rishon described how her emotionally detached husband constantly criticized their children harshly during the marriage. Once the couple  separated he became “father of the year,” complaining bitterly to anyone who would listen about how he never gets to see his children. He is now delaying, hoping the Schnit recommendations will be accepted. Others describe a joint custody arrangement where the mother ends up “babysitting” for her own children in the evenings when her ex-husband works, despite getting less money as part of the settlement. The women’s groups fear that a change in default custody arrangements will enable controlling fathers to convince the court to agree to  joint custody, when it is not in the children’s interest, as a way of punishing their wives.

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  1. Aviva-Hadas says

    I know it is very unpopular to have a prenuptual agreement (I don’t have one myself) but wouldn’t these decisiosn be better made when the couple is in love rather than “hate.”

    As an aside, I have a topic idea – Wills. (Who gets the kids___?)

  2. Joint custody is horrible. You’re never fully divorced from your spouse, a woman has no freedom. My friend is going through it and it’s pretty grim.

    • Abbi, but that’s true to some extent with every divorce involving kids unless one spouse leaves the country or is totally uninvolved.

      • “she is never really divorced” that’s exactely the effect I thought it would have.

        Just take a look at the legislation (I know for Switzerland, where they have similar plans).

        You want “joint custody”, but still the child is living with one parent, so the decisions have to be categorised into:

        day-to-day decisions
        more important decisions
        very important decisions

        Before, all this was clear cut: the custodial parent gets to decide.

        Now, if the parents get along well, it is no problem to consider the point of view of the non-custodial parent and to come to an agreement that works for everybody.

        With “shared custody”, the formerly non-custodial parent has an attitude of entitlement, that makes it much harder to work out compromises.

        If you want to read how horrible joint custody can be, go to the “stepmom metamorphosis” blog, which is written from the perspective of a stepmother. Her husband constantly stops his ex from doing what she wants to do, he sued her to get 1 night more with his daughter every other week… It’s just incredible…

        I think the only ones who will benefit from default joined custody are the divorce lawyers, because, the cases are constantly re-opened. It’s worse than kindergarten.

        • Thanks, Gartie. Unfortunately the blog you mention seems to have been made private. Not a big surprise. . .

        • Sounds horrible.

          In my friends case, she resists the urge to constantly run to the judge with legitimate issues that her husband is ignoring, (particularly religious ones) because she doesn’t want to cause further trauma to her children. But it’s really heartbreaking. She’s just relieved when her kids make it to school after a weekend with him in one piece, even if it’s in T-shirts in the middle of winter, lacking lunch or brushed hair.

  3. In the US, when fathers’ fight for custody, the majority of them are awarded custody. While joint custody may seem like a good thing and while having fathers in their children’s lives may seem good, there are fathers who use the custody battle as a way of punishing the mothers (and as you noted, often the fathers have more resources for this). I work with an organization that deals with domestic violence and while obviously most fathers who want custody are not abusers, there are some who use the courts as another step in abuse. When you add the problem of the need for a man to give the women a get and the fact that many Israeli batei din have explicitly said that they don’t see paying for a get as a problem, then this just compounds the problem.
    I’ll get off my soap box now.

  4. The magazine programme “Miktsoanim” had an article about this a couple of weeks ago, with a lawyer who deals with joint custody cases. The link for the programme is http://boker.nana10.co.il/Article/?ArticleID=766283 but that’s the whole programme, not just this part. I remember 2 ideas he discussed: 1) the child needs a stable base and living in 2 homes doesn’t give him this and, more importantly 2) for joint custody to work, there has to be good communication between the parents.

  5. the “standard” is mother has custody, father has 2 evenings a week and every other shabbat… it’s not like the kids are taken away from the father completely. It’s just that one parent is primary caregiver, and the other is secondary. If that was the case in the marriage (which it usually is), it makes sense for it to continue being the case.

  6. walter bistrong says

    Can you reccomend a lawyer in Israel who has experiece in custod matters,

    Thank you,


  7. Thanks hannah, this is really interesting– anybody know more about this line?

    “In Canada and Australia, where joint custody is currently the norm, the situation has led to disastrous results.”

    what happened in those countries?

    • Chana, sorry I didn’t get back to you until now. Here’s what the article says:
      In Australia, the law didn’t give preference to joint custody but was phrased in a vague way that “the connection to the child be maintained.” The courts interpreted that as joint custody. Studies done since showed that the welfare of children was badly damaged. In cases where the level of antagonism was high–and couples who went to court–the emotional condition of children who were in joint custody arrangements was very bad.
      Studies from additional countries, said Halperin-Kederi, show that elimination the “chezkat hagil harach” (default custody for small children) did not materially change the amount of time children spent with their mothers. In Canada, where militant fathers’ organizations succeeded in the forming of a gov’t committee that succeeded in a change in the law. The mothers continued to care for the children, but received less child support because of the supposedly joint custody.

  8. Why can’t they figure it out on a case by case basis? Joint custody is right for some, but not right for others.

    I think it is sexist to assume that the mother is closer to the child/ren to begin with and will be the better custodial parent. On the other hand, joint custody forces a divorced couple to live close together and have regular interactions. (But, let’s face it, if the kids are little they should be having regular interactions anyway.)

    The thing that drives me crazy about custodial agreements everywhere is that they don’t change over time. The work, health, family, financial, etc situation of the custodial parent may change over time and the non-custodial parent is bound by a potentially decade-old (or more) agreement.

    I was moved more than 2000 miles away from my non-custodial parent when I was a teenager (13 years after my parents’ divorce). Neither he nor I had any say, though I would have preferred to go live with my dad at that point. Would that have been a bad decision on my part? I don’t know. In order to change the agreement a court battle would have been required–which seemed stupid for a domestic move but was threatened for a move from the US to Sudan in the mid-1980s. Pick your battles, I guess.

  9. I’m going to have to agree with Katie on this one, I don’t believe a single ruling for all cases makes sense. I’m not even talking about extreme cases were abuse is apparent or possible. I’m thinking of families where both parents have normal healthy day to day care relationships with their children. Removing a child from the care of a responsible adult because dad isn’t mom is ridiculous. I understand that often men have the upper hand but I have seen just as many vindictive women who wield their maternal power over fathers who are now terrified that one simple accusation from mom will have their children taken away from them. I have also seen vein mothers neglect their children to begin new lives as divorcees while dad learns to be the full-time parent. I would argue that the fight for a good father to be allowed to continue to parent is just as difficult.

    Take into consideration perhaps the most famous shared custody of children in Israel. Golda Mier parented by proxy and although her children detail a loving and dedicated mother, it was their father who parented them while mom built helped build a nation, a fact she well recognized and addressed in her own manuscripts.

    Lastly, I’m a bit surprised with the concept of a gender-based default ruling in Israel where we have more practicing lawyers than law enforcement. Even “Mother’s Day” was considered sexist and single-sided and all we’re left with now is the lack luster, egalitarian “Family Day.” It would seem with all the well versed legal strategists in the nation, their energies would be better spent drafting enduring laws than hasty single solution proclamations.

  10. Turning this into a he vs. she contest continues whatever acrimony caused the divorce to begin with. The focus should not be on mom or dad but on the kids, and needs to be evaluated on a year-to-year basis as the kids grow up, sometimes even sooner. No, sometimes mom is not the “best” of the two parents and dad needs to be given more responsibility, if capable. Sometimes the reverse is true. No divorce is identical to another, and no family situation either. The courts need to recognize that the ones truly in danger should a bad decision be made are neither the husband nor the wife but the defenseless kids. They don’t get to decide if they want the divorce or not, yet they pay the price. Time to stop playing the “I hate my ex-spouse games and I’ll screw him/her any chance I get” and put the kids first.

    • I agree with ProfK here, as well as Kate and the few others who noted that custody agreements are usually best when negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

      My mother has litigated divorces for 30 years in the US. She has also acted as a child advocate (appointed by the judge in a particular case when there appears to be a need for the child(ren) to have his/her/their own representation.)

      There can be very good joint custody situations, and very bad ones. Both mothers and fathers can be vindictive and manipulative. In my experience as an observer (I used to act as my mother’s assistant in court) the best custody situations were negotiated when all sides had effective representation (i.e. a good lawyer) and the judge was competent and understanding.

      Bad situations occurred when one parent manipulated/extorted the other or one of the children outside of court using money/abuse/other power etc., and the abused party did not have good representation or proof of the manipulation.

      Divorce is never pleasant. But the best custody agreements are negotiated on a case-by-case basis and administered by a wise judge.

      It may be the Israel, because it operates using a system akin to civil law, in which the law is supreme and judges and lawyers argue novel cases by making analogies in the law (as opposed to common law like the US has, which uses previously decided cases to establish precedent) may require a default option. I do not know the answer to that.

  11. My parents divorced when I was four and then remarried each other when I was about nine. They had joint custody and my dad was in our lives (I have a brother who is two years younger, my youngest brother was born after they remarried) a lot. He coached our sports teams, was president of our day school, took us to school in the mornings, spent lots of time with us each summer (he’s a teacher), etc, etc. My mom never bad mouthed him to us, even though I now know that he was a major reason they got divorced the first time (he was a habitual cheater). They were very effective in co-parenting us.

    My brother and I have grown up to be pretty happy, healthy people. I think in part, that’s because we had two parents who were deeply involved in our lives. I can’t imagine I would be saying the same thing if we barely got to see my dad. I know there are cases where one parent shouldn’t be allowed to have full access to the children for whatever reason. But that is not the case in most divorces. I think the “standard” child custody arrangement should be joint custody that is as close to evenly divided as possible, and that the judge should only deviate from that when there is evidence that joint custody is not in the best interest of the children.

  12. I have just reached this forum after searching for information on whether or not I have a reasonable chance of getting joint custody for our child, I am a father and right now my son who is only 4 months old (bless him) is being used as a weapon against me and our relationship (mine and my sons) is dependant on his mothers latest whim and how that affects her opinion of me as a person, which is low at the best of times.

    I am a great dad, I love my son more than life itself, and I am in a world of pain because of the way my ex is acting.

    We were not married and until now I have danced to her her every tune so that her hot temper is not raised and she allows me to visit, my main concern is for Itay (that’s our son) and so I have avoided until now taking any legal action or starting any fights with lawyers as the money and time and resources that would take should be better used for Itay and not silly bickering parents but I am getting hurt almost every time I try to visit as she always finds ways to either stop the visit or just make it hell for me to be there and spend time with Itay.

    Yes I have the resources to go to court and make it very hard for her but as of now I have not hoping she might come around and let me spend quality time with Itay without her being bitchy and nasty to me, but this appears not to be happening and as of late she has also started to become violent, striking me even when I am holding the baby.

    She is an excellent mother, she loves Itay as much as I do, but our relationship just fell apart and we are not good together at all, in this case I have time to spend with Itay, I do not have the requirement to work so many hours and can afford to and want to with all my heart give him bundles of attention, care, love and guidence.

    Do any of you see any reason why I as the type of man I am who is so in love with his baby boy not have the right to have joint custody, I am not saying she does not deserve custody as I have said before she is a great mother, but then I am a great father too, so what is so wrong with joint custody and Itay having the best of both worlds why should the default be with the mother, it is just ridiculous to suggest that there should even be a default.

    Good, strong, supportive, loving, kind, gentle, guiding fathers are equally as important in the role they play than good, strong, supportive, loving, kind, gentle, guiding mothers and there have been numerous studies that have shown that a child needs both mother’s and father’s influence for different aspects of character growth.

    But never mind the studies why should our sweet, adorable, love of both our lives not have an equally (in all ways) excellent relationship with me and his mother?

    Even now without any agreements or court orders in place, with not being allowed to see Itay in a nice way and spend time with him as I would want, without interference and being threatened that I need to do this, that and the other or I can not see him, even with all this I have paid for almost everything he needs and continue to do so, I give a lot of money every month, 3 or 4 times what the law says I should, I do this because despite the way I am being treated my concern is that Itay has everything he needs….

    Surely ladies the default is wrong, and should be scrapped, is Itay not entitled to have everything from me that I can give him too?

  13. It just gave me time to pause about this post. although I am not from Israel but this concern affect and is a global situation that need to be look at. My uncle was married to this emotionally unstable woman, though everybody does hid their true self during the dating stage, you may only know his/her real self when you will be living in one roof. They got a very beautiful 1 year old baby when he cannot still take what her wife is doing to him. Very demanding, always shouting, demeaning him in front of relatives and even yet very scandalous when he arrive home late (he needs to have an overtime, for his wife’s demands). He decided to divorce the girl but the kid was with her wife. This is not how thing should be. There should be a psychologist who will study each personality that who is most capable of rearing the kid. Though she is the mother but she is not capable of rearing a good kid. Until now my uncle is very hard up since he always makes the kid an excuse if he won’t give more than enough of what was allotted for the kids allowance. She threatens to let the kid go hungry. my uncle love his girl very much. This should not be impose that mothers should be the one to take care of the kids when separation occurs in a relationship. There should be a thorough study of both parents.

  14. I think it is sexist to assume that the mother is closer to the child/ren to begin with and will be the better custodial parent. On the other hand, joint custody forces a divorced couple to live close together and have regular interactions.