The Council of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel reached a revolutionary decision Monday, according to which divorced mothers, too, must participate in child support costs and not just fathers.
In deciding the matter, the Council accepted the opinion of Chief Rabbi David Lau.
Until now, the burden of child support in Jewish divorces fell only upon fathers.
This was true even in cases in which the mother is a person of means who makes more money than the father. Civil family courts, too, judge cases involving Jewish couples in accordance with the halakhic precept that only fathers must pay child support.
The decision marks an about-face in a process that began in 1944, when the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in the Land of Israel, under Chief Rabbis Herzog and Uziel, raised the age of children whose fathers must support them financially, from six to 15.
Previously, fathers’ financial support for children aged 6-15 was deemed to be a matter of “din tzedaka” – i.e., a desirable and charitable action, but not necessarily one to be enforced by the courts.
In 1980, the age of children thus eligible for paternal support was raised to 18. This decision was reaffirmed six years later, in a decision that said that parents must provide for their children until age 18.
However, the Director of the Rabbinical Courts, Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, recently raised the matter before the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and noted the significant changes that have taken place in women’s status since the era of the British Mandate.
He noted that clarifying the matter could assist in solving divorce cases, since unfair child support verdicts sometimes have the effect of causing husbands who feel that they have been wronged to refuse to sign a get, or divorce decree.
The decision formulated by Chief Rabbi Lau and accepted by the Council states that in deciding child support payments, the rabbinical and secular judges should take into account both the financial ability of the fathers and the financial ability of the mothers.
The decision does not necessarily mean that many divorce mothers will pay fathers money, but rather that the mothers’ own earnings will be taken into account when calculating what child support payments must be made by one parent to the other. It appears that it could, however, result in mothers’ paying fathers when the mother has means and the children are in the father’s care a large part of the time.
The decision by the Chief Rabbinate may make legislative efforts to reform the matter unnecessary. In addition, it could affect an existing case being tried by the Supreme Court in which the Attorney General was asked to testify.