Thursday, November 27, 2008

Divorce & custody - Tender Years Clause

Arutz Sheva reports: An academic conference on a proposed change in Israeli divorce law – the annulment of the Tender Years Clause which grants automatic physical custody over young children to their mothers in divorce cases – turned into a emotional and stormy session as academicians, divorced fathers, social workers, feminist and non-feminist speakers argued in heated tones.

The conference, which was held in the Netanya Academic College, was chaired by Dr. Yisrael Tzvi Gilat, and the panel included Prof. Dan Shnitt. Shnitt is currently chairing a committee which was appointed by Tzipi Livni when she was Minister of Justice, and which is expected to recommend legislating an alternative to the Tender Years Clause.

The Welfare Ministry's Deputy Director, Moti Vinter, told the assembled audience that the ministry favors the annulment of the Tenders Years Clause. "We think that the family institution is changing, society in Israel is changing, men are becoming more involved in the institution of family," he said. "I think that the decision by Welfare Minister Yitzchak Herzog to enable the possibility of adoption by homosexuals and lesbians definitely proves… the willingness to adjust to far reaching change in Israeli society," he explained.

Vinter said, however, that the fact that Israel has s rabbinical court system makes it different from other western countries and suggested that annulling the Tender Years Clause immediately would not be a good idea after all. He recommended testing the idea in an experimental fashion before reaching a decision to strike the clause permanently from the law books.

Vinter and the other speakers had trouble finishing their speeches, however, because men's activists who sat in the front rows kept on interrupting them. The activists said, among other things, that the Shnitt Committee was illegitimate because it included feminist representatives, including a representative from Israel's largest women's union, Na'amat – yet has no representatives from the men's groups.

Senior Social Worker Niva Milner, who was also interrupted numerous times, said that the Welfare Ministry has changed its attitude on the subject of custody but explained that the change is mostly one of "discourse." The old discourse concerned parental rights, she said, and the new one involves parental responsibilities.

Prof. Yossi Gil, a member of a parents' group called "Horut Shava," said that the Tender Years Clause perpetuated the stereotypes of "mother as nanny and father as cash machine" and that both sexes should be interested in annulling it for the sake of equality. He noted that some people receive money in order to perpetuate the feud between men and women and singled out a feminist group that publicly supported a woman who sadistically murdered her husband.

Dr. Orly Binyamin of the Sociology and Gender Studies programs in Bar Ilan University caused a firestorm to erupt when she explained the reason for her opposition to striking the Tender Years Clause. "My opposition has nothing to do with my assessment regarding the skills of men as fathers or of women as mothers," she said. "The central point is that when the Tender Years Clause is annulled, women will lose their legal status as single mothers and therefore will not be eligible for [state] support."

The Tender Years Clause is based upon a principle spelled out by Maimonides, according to which children up to the age of six should be with their mothers in case of divorce. However, additional clauses from Maimonides which stipulate that the father has the right to raise his sons after they turn six are ignored by modern Israeli courts, and the Tender Years Clause has been extended and now applies to children of all ages. [...]

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