According to Jewish law and the 1959 Amending Family Law Act, as long as a couple is married, the husband is obligated to provide for his wife. This responsibility persists even if the couple has been separated for a lengthy period of time, and it ends only once the get has been given and the divorce is final. The level of mezonot is not uniformly determined, but is based on the standard of living to which the woman was accustomed during her marriage and beforehand, while taking into account the man’s potential earnings, assets, and his own present standard of living. A woman has no responsibility to work to support herself, but the independent income or assets of a working woman are considered when calculating a husband’s mezonot payments and can potentially offset his obligation entirely. A woman forfeits her right to mezonot, according to Jewish law, when either the bet din or civil court declare her a ‘moredet’ (rebellious wife) or ‘quasi-moredet’. The bet din can also issue a court ruling obligating a man to make mezonot payments as a means of pressuring him to grant a get promptly (mezonot meukevet mechmato). By virtue of the laws of contracts, the obligation in mezonot payments applies also to a couple that was married civilly.
A woman’s ‘mezonot – sustenance’ includes, in addition to food, clothing, and medical care, also housing that is on par with the level to which she is accustomed. A man is, therefore, responsible for rent and maintenance costs of his wife’s separate home, and he may not remove her from his residence until he finds her an appropriate housing alternative. The woman and children are sometimes awarded ‘specific housing’ rights, or in other words, the home in which they lived before the present conflict.
According to Jewish law, a woman forfeits her right to mezonot, if she ceases fulfilling her marital obligations. Thus, if she leaves her home, of her own accord (and not because her husband mistreated her), refuses to have marital relations with her husband, is unfaithful, or refuses to accept a get from her husband, bet din can declare her a ‘moredet’. Such a ruling (and sometimes evidence of one of these situations alone, without a formal ruling) can allow the husband to claim either in civil court or bet din an exemption from mezonot. In certain cases, a man who has an extramarital affair is considered a ‘quasi-mored (rebellious husband)’, a characterization that affects his right to withhold part of a woman’s mezonot.
A woman who was married in a Jewish ceremony is entitled to the money that was promised to her in her ketubah, upon the termination of her marriage (through divorce or her husband’s death), unless she was declared a ‘moredet’ by bet din. A woman who was only married civilly has no rights, which derive from the ketubah. The amount of the ketubah includes the ‘principle of the ketubah’ (200 zuz, in a first marriage, which today is worth a few shekel), the dowry (200 zekukim – coins of pure silver – which, today is worth between 2,500 to 45,000 NIS, depending on how one calculates inflation and linkage from ancient times until today), and the ‘tosefet ketubah (ketubah supplement)’, which is a variable amount every groom chooses according to his financial means and personal inclination. According to the Financial Relations Between Spouses Act of 1973, the equal division of property between a couple does not conflict with or “detract… from a woman’s rights based on her ketubah.” Nevertheless, in practice, a woman generally foregoes her right to her ketubah (with the encouragement of the judges, dayanim, and arbitrators), in the course of the hearings in bet din and in court, and at the time she files for divorce, as a precondition for equal property distribution.
In the event of a divorce, all joint assets accrued over the course of the marriage, must be divided. These include real estate (apartment, business), non- real estate (vehicles, apartment contents), capital (bank accounts, savings, cash), future earnings (pension, retirement funds), personal reputation and earning potential built over the years, and debts. Joint assets do not include gifts, inheritances, property acquired before marriage, National Insurance payments, compensation for physical injuries, and assets that were explicitly excluded from this category by the couple in a (legal) financial prenuptial agreement. According to the Financial Relations Between Spouses Act, 1973, property is divided according to the ‘balance of resources agreement’, an agreement, which establishes equal division of property between husband and wife, where every contribution to the family unit (work out of the house, and work in the house, doing domestic chores and raising the children) is considered to be of equal value in the joint effort. For couples who were married before this law came into effect, there is ‘presumption of cooperation’ that establishes a similar equal distribution, unless one can infer a different intent from the way the couple lived and managed their property. Significant differences exist between the civil and religious courts with regard to the manner of property division. Generally, an agreement is reached or a ruling is made with regard to the property division prior to the get ceremony. When the couple is engaged in protracted conflict, the get is liable to be held up and possibly used as a means for extortion in the property battle.
Civil law allows any partner in an asset (whether through marriage or business) to unilaterally dissolve the partnership at any time. Sometimes, as with a residence, it is impossible to physically divide the asset. Such an asset should be sold, and the revenue shared, by the partners. It is possible to dissolve the partnership even before the completion of the divorce, unless the wife and children have ‘specific housing’ rights, that is – continued use of the residence in which they lived before the divorce. A suit to dissolve the partnership in the absence of consent from both sides can be brought only in civil court, not rabbinical court.
Child custody is usually granted to one of the separated parents. ‘Joint Custody’ is possible, but relatively rare, and requires great cooperation between the parents. For children under age 6 the ‘young child presumption’ applies, according to which it is better for young children to stay with their mother, unless proven otherwise. The child’s best interest is the central consideration guiding the judge’s ruling, also taking into account the parents’ wishes, their parental competence, their ability to provide the child’s needs, as well as who, until now was the primary caregiver. Older children are asked for their opinions. Sometimes a welfare official is involved in the decision. He writes a report containing his evaluation of the child’s best interest. Regarding the child’s education, a parent who does not have custody still has an equal say in the matter.
Child Visitation Arrangements
Visitation rights are arranged for the parent that does not have custody, to allow maintaining a relationship with the children. It is required of the guardian to allow and encourage this relationship, for the well-being of the child. The arrangement can be determined by the parents themselves, or by the civil or rabbinical court. Conventionally, young children stay with the parent without custody every second weekend and half of the holidays, as well as once or twice in the middle of each week, all depending on the wishes of the child and parents, and geographical distance between the parents’ homes. Parents can also agree on a flexible arrangement. The court and police have the authority to enforce the arrangement if either side breaks the rules. The arrangement can be changed, pursuant to a fundamental change in circumstances, by bringing the matter before the court authority that originally set the rules.
Children under the age of 18 have the right to child support by Jewish law, Chief Rabbinate regulations, and the Amending Family Law Act of 1969. If they serve in the army or do National Service, they can claim child support (up to a third of their child support until this point) until they complete their mandatory army service. The obligation to provide child support is not affected by divorce, and it includes food, clothing, education, housing, and if there are sufficient financial means – even more. Jewish law places primary responsibility for basic child support on the father, though it is expected that both parents should concern themselves with their children’s welfare. The level of support is determined according to the earning potential of both parents. It is linked to the cost-of-living-index, and it can be changed, pursuant to a fundamental change in circumstances, by bringing the matter before the court authority that deals with these matters. The court will generally set monthly child support payments at no lower than approximately 1500 NIS. There are wide variations in bet din in these decisions, depending on the judge’s impression in each case. If the mother has custody over the children, the father will transfer the money that he owes towards child support to her management. Child support payments can be enforced by the Repossession Bureau, and in certain circumstances, in accordance with the Child Support Act (Guaranteeing Payment) – 1972 , they can be collected from National Insurance. Often, the court will order ‘temporary support’ payments, to pay for child support in the period between the filing of a child support claim and the court’s final ruling.
Impounding of Property and Travel Restriction
Either side can petition the court for orders restraining their spouse’s freedom, in order to enable court proceedings to take place or to insure their compliance with court orders. Thus, for example, if you suspect that your spouse’s trip abroad will result in his failure to appear at a scheduled court hearing, you may request an order prohibiting him from leaving the country. A court also has the authority to impound property in order to insure child support or sustenance payments.
In a situation of domestic violence or real threat of it, one may petition the civil or rabbinical court for a restraining order, removing the offending spouse from his home for limited periods of time. In the case of a violation of the order, one may turn to either the court or the police. For more extended restraining orders, one must submit a request for a permanent restraining order, or for an alternative housing solution. The right to housing includes the right to a peaceful quiet living environment. Thus, a temporary or permanent restraining order will likely be issued in the case of verbal abuse, cruelty, and degradation.
When a couple is in agreement regarding the divorce itself and the issues involved in it (property and children), they file a joint petition for divorce in the rabbinical court, along with the agreement they signed (this agreement can receive legal certification in the family court prior to their filing or afterwards, in the rabbinical court). A joint consensual petition is not only appropriate for a couple that sees eye- to- eye regarding the divorce issues. It is also appropriate and desirable for couples, where one side has initiated the divorce, and the other side is cooperating against his will, as well as for couples who initially experienced tension and conflict with regard to the divorce, but who succeeded, after negotiations, legal counseling, arbitration, and the like, in reaching an agreement. The benefits of a joint petition include savings in time, money, and hostility. Additionally, bet din will generally accept joint petitions for divorce at face value, without investigating their reasons and justifications.
When there is lack of consensus between husband and wife, one of whom (at least) wishes to divorces, regarding matters of property, support, and children, each of them can file a suit in these matters against his spouse in family court or bet din. Divorce hearings can take months or years, depending on the case, until there is a judicial ruling. When the very decision to divorce is in dispute, the case is heard only in rabbinical court, since the agreement of both sides is required for a get. If the reason for divorce is ‘justified’ in the eyes of bet din, in other words, if it is included in the ‘grounds for divorce’ that are enumerated in Jewish law, the bet din will exert pressure on the recalcitrant spouse in order to persuade him to agree to the get.