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August 30, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Sometimes, as here, it takes a good turn of events to illustrate just how bad things are (Israel National News, 8/25/13). It seems an Israeli judge has rocked that country’s child custody world with a revolutionary ruling. He decided that a father with equal custody of his daughter shouldn’t have to pay child support to the mother who earns substantially more than he does.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why is that revolutionary? After all, if both father and mother share custody and she earns more than he does why would he pay anything? In fact, why wouldn’t she pay him? Well, Israeli family law is about as anti-father as it comes, so when a judge rules fairly, with common sense and in a father’s favor, it is a revolution of sorts.

Judge Yoram Shaked ruled that the father in question does not need to pay support because he shares custody of his children with his ex-wife, and because she has a higher income and more disposable income than he does…

Attorney Aviv Harel explained the significant of the verdict. “Until today, most judges set minimum child support payments for Jewish fathers that stood at 1,350 shekels per month per child or more,” he said.

“This revolutionary verdict is very good news for divorced fathers, but much less good for divorced mothers in Israel,” he noted.

Courts normally look at two aspects of child support, Harel explained. The first is “essential support,” which includes the cost of food, clothing, housing and healthcare. Fathers are automatically viewed as responsible for paying for “essential support,” regardless of their income, he said.

The second aspect includes “extras” such as vacations, entertainment, and extra-curricular activities. These costs are normally split by divorced parents based on their respective incomes.

Judges usually rule that fathers who share equal custody of their children with the children’s mother must pay 75% of the cost of raising the children, Harel said, while fathers who do not have custody at all must pay 100% support.

Notice that, under the law as it exists, no pretense of fairness, evenhandedness or equality is made. If Mom and Dad have equal custody, Dad pays 75%. What genius figured that one out, I don’t know, but his/her basic math skills come into question.

In the case in question, the divorced parents share custody of the children. The mother earns more than 18,000 shekels a month and owns a home, while the father earns over 13,000 shekels a month and rents his home. The mother had sued for over 13,000 shekels a month in child support, arguing that she bears primary responsibility for the children and so deserves financial support.

The court found that because the children are with their father half of the time, he is essentially already paying half the cost of “essential support.” The mother, who has significantly more disposable income than her ex-spouse, should legally pay proportionally more for “extras,” Shaked ruled.

Therefore, the father’s obligation to pay 100% of “essential support” is balanced out by the mother’s responsibility to pay proportionally more for “extras,” he said, and the arrangement the two currently have in which neither party pays support to the other is just.

“In light of the tiny sum that the father would be giving the mother, and in light of the fact that in effect the children spend more than half of their time with the father, I saw fit not to obligate the father to give the mother any payment. So the two parents will continue to equally share the costs,” he wrote.

What a concept. The idea that, when a mother and father share custody equally, they share the costs of childrearing equally and therefore neither should pay the other, is in fact a revolutionary one in Israel. And that, of course, is what I meant when I said that, sometimes a positive event illustrates just how bad things are. Wouldn’t you think equal time raising the child would mean no child support? Don’t judges and lawmakers understand that, if a child lives X number of days with one parent, it’s that parent who’s supporting the child during that time? It’s not a difficult idea to grasp, but apparently they’ve been unable to do so until now.

Not that things are much better in this country or, as we’ve seen, in Canada. Here, the higher earning parent tends to pay child support regardless of the amount of time the child spends with whom. For example, former NFL star Deion Sanders has primary custody of his daughter, but still pays his ex, Pilar, some $10,000 per month (when last I heard). Why? Because he earns more.

The theory behind that seems to be that the child shouldn’t experience a drop in his/her standard of living when visiting the non-custodial parent. In extreme cases, I can see the point. If the non-custodial parent is so poor that the child’s basic needs might not be met when living there, I understand requiring the custodial parent to improve matters somewhat.

But that’s not the point. The point is that the child, in all cases, is supposed to undergo no change in lifestyle from one parent to the other, and I think that’s seriously misconceived. Most importantly, children aren’t as fragile as courts like to think. They can handle the fact that, say, Mom earns less than Dad and therefore she doesn’t live in as nice a house or drive as fancy a car. Their friends’ parents have different standards of living and they can understand that their parents may as well.

In addition, judges and legislators might ask themselves what they’re teaching children by their child support rules. The answer seems to be that, as long as you have a child, it doesn’t much matter how much you work or how much you earn, your standard of living will remain the same. Married or divorced, the cash keeps flowing. Our current concept of child support encourages us to disconnect how much effort we expend in productive, paid work from how much money comes in. Children, I suspect, get the message.

I think that, in most cases, kids would be better off if we delivered the message that working and earning are what provide income and that, therefore, one must rely on oneself for support.

But in Israel, it’s just good old-fashioned anti-father sexism that’s ruled child custody cases, at least until now.

What might be the results of Judge Shaked’s ruling? For starters I’d say more fathers will start going for more time with their children. They generally want that anyway and if the child support system is going to treat them more sensibly, then why not try for greater time. Mothers of course will resist. When greater time for Dad means lower cash payments to them and less mommy time, we can expect mothers to fight back. In the U.S. that’s meant dramatic spikes in allegations of domestic violence and child abuse. As Brinig and Allen’s study of Oregon child custody outcomes demonstrated, an attempt by the state legislature to curtail awards of sole custody (almost exclusively to mothers) resulted in dramatic increases in the number of claims of abuse made by mothers. I don’t see why it should be any different in Israel.

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