Divorce law in Israel is different to many other countries. In Israel, two parallel courts have the authority to deal with divorce issues: the Rabbinical Court and the Family Court. So, how do you get a divorce? What happens to your children? And how is your property divided when your marriage ends? Here we provide our guide to divorce and Israel.
Rabbinical Court v Family Court in Israel
In most western countries, it is a family court that makes decisions regarding divorce, arrangements for children, and how assets and property are divided when your marriage ends.
In Israel, there are two courts that have the authority to deal with divorce issues: the Rabbinical Court and the Family Court. Both can make judgements on issues relating to divorce, such as custody of children, contact for a non-resident payment, spousal support, and the division of marital assets.
Your divorce will be dealt with by the court where your petition was first submitted. This means that one of you can effectively decide where your case is hear by being the first to petition a court for your divorce.
For example, if you petition the Rabbinical Court, the Dayanim (judges) have authority to deal with your divorce issues.
It’s important to remember that the nature of the court processes differs between the Rabbinical and Family Courts.
In the Family Court, the judge has an academic legal education which is typically secular or traditional. In the Rabbinical Court, the judges are graduates of religious academies and generally from the orthodox community, typically without formal legal qualifications.
This can lead to different outcomes. For example, if you’re divorcing on the ground of adultery the Family Court will not allow this to influence the outcome of the process (in terns of child custody, division of assets etc.). However, in the Rabbinical Court, the judges will take a serious view on adultery even though they are subject to civil law. The attitude to the ‘guilty’ party is likely to be less tolerant and they are likely to get a worse outcome.
The religious and civil courts exist separately, but the Supreme Court in Israel can void decisions made by supreme religious courts.
Divorce laws and grounds for divorce in Israel
While both court systems can deal with issues arising from your divorce, the Rabbinical Courts Act (Marriage and Divorce) states that applications regarding matters of marriage between Jewish spouses are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Courts.
The grounds for divorce are therefore narrow. Unless you both consent to the divorce, you will have to prove one of the following grounds:
- An ‘act of ugliness’ – this is where a woman commits an ‘improper act’, such as meeting with another man in public
- Impotence – where a spouse cannot conceive in 10 years of marriage
- Violence – violent behaviour of a husband towards his wife
- Refusal to engage in sexual relations.
Once the court have heard the petition, or if you consent and you wish the court to approve your agreement, the Rabbinical Court will issue a ruling. The court will also arrange a ‘Get’: a religious ritual through which a husband ‘discards’ his wife.
The husband must grant the Get willingly and it must be accepted by the wife of her own free will. If a husband refuses to grant a Get and the wife can’t prove any of the grounds above, the marriage may remain indefinitely. This means that a Jewish woman may have to stay married unless she is ‘released’ by her husband.
How child custody, contact and support are arranged on divorce in Israel
If you agree on the arrangements for your child following divorce, then you can request that this is agreement is approved by the court. If you can’t agree, the court can make an order.
In Israel, the Rabbinical Court works to a general principle that custody of children aged up to 6 years is given to the mother. Over the age of 6, the father would normally be granted custody of boys while a mother would be granted custody of girls.
However, the Rabbinical Court will consider all aspects of your child’s welfare before making an order. This will include your parenting ability, your mental health, and aspects such as whether there is more than one child.
The Court will also place great emphasis on your child’s spiritual growth. So, if you plan to raise the child in a non-Jewish environment or refuse to give them a Jewish education, this will be an important factor in the court’s decision.
Your child’s views will be taken into consideration before any decision is made. For example, if your son is 12 and states that he wants to live with his mother, the court would typically sanction this even through it is contrary to their general principles.
Your child retains rights to contact with the non-resident parent. This is typically in the form of alternate weekend contact, once or twice during the week, and half the school holidays. Even if a parent fails to meet their child support obligations, contact should be enabled.
A recent law change now means that both parents are equally responsible for the maintenance of their child from the age of 6 (previously the obligation was solely with the father until the age of 15). The amount of child support will be influenced by the amount of time your child spends with each parent.
Israel is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. This means that if your child is taken out of Israel without your consent, you can submit a request to the relevant authority for assistance in commencing proceedings to ensure the safe return of your child.
How property is divided on divorce in Israel
The default regime in Israel is that property acquired during your marriage should be split equally. This applies even if an asset or property is registered in just one of your names.
Assets that you acquired before you got married are considered ‘separate property’ and are not divided on divorce. Separate assets also include inheritances and gifts you received during your marriage.
In terms of spousal support, a husband’s obligation to his wife begins with marriage and ends on divorce. A husband has no legal obligation to support his wife after the marriage ends (the issuance of a Get).
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