Kulanu MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, chair of the Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, shared strong words on equal parenting at the 18th Annual Conference of the Israel Bar Association.
“If I want to raise a generation of girls who are growing up in a more equal society, then we need to start here and now, and legislate laws that offer equality with regards to custody and child support…” said Shasha-Biton. “We live in a society which hasn’t yet decided what message it wants to give.”
In Israel, mothers automatically receive custody of children under age six thanks to the Tender Years Clause. Women’s groups vehemently opposed attempts to lower the age last year. It’s a fight that frustrated men and women who are fighting for the best interests of Israeli children.
“The discussion earlier was that men want to spend more time with their children so that they’ll pay less money,” said Shasha-Biton. “And it really doesn’t matter, because if you do it for the wrong reasons, and later it’s for the right reasons, then that’s fine with me.”
The Tender Years Doctrine
Up until the British passed the Custody of Infants Act 1839, fathers received custody of children after divorce by default. Men could provide for their children financially. Women often couldn’t. They knew if they sought a divorce, there was a good chance they wouldn’t see their children again.
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The early 19th Century saw the expansion of women’s rights and opportunities. They finally had the legal standing to demand more equal treatment as parents and to fight for the needs of their children. What became known as the Tender Years Doctrine created a presumption of maternal custody – especially of the youngest and most vulnerable children most in need of daily care. The law also established child support.
While replaced in much of the Western World with the Best Interests of the Child Doctrine, the Tender Years Clause is a sticking point in the Knesset, despite the Committee for the Rights of the Child speaking out against it.
“This is hypocrisy…” said Shasha-Biton. “The Knesset is pushing laws for equal parenting, but when it comes to divorce, equality ends. Suddenly, Dad isn’t good enough, he’s not as good as he was when they were married.”
The time is right for change to happen, but it will take fathers – and their supporters – to make their voices known, just as women were forced to fight for their rights in the 1800s.
To read more about hypocrisy in family law, particularly in the United States, see The Hypocrisy of Equality in a Family Law Context, written by DadsRights.org founder Anne P. Mitchell while she was at Stanford Law school.