Israel Dads Protest Discrimination In Divorce Child Custody Kfar Sava, Ra'anana Courts

Israeli men are allowed to carry M-16s to protect Israel,
but not allowed to carry their own children.
Photo: Joel Leyden

By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency

Ra'anana, Israel ----- February 24, 2008 ....... Over 40 divorced fathers who are being denied equal access to their children staged a demonstration today at the Kfar Sava Family Court in Israel.

"This is a peaceful, non-violent protest against family court judges, child welfare departments in Ra'anana and Kfar Sava and the mayors of these Israel towns who continue to ignore the plight of families at risk," said Niv Amit, the founder and director of Fathers Injured by Family Court Judge Mekayes. " Mekayes behavior and biased decisions against men is symptomatic of a sick, perverted justice and child welfare system in Israel which is in critical need of reform."

Amit's group was joined by members of Fathers 4 Justice Israel, another human rights group whose mission is to provide equal access and shared parenting to the children of divorce.

"I was in Mekayes court room just a few weeks ago, " said Kobi, a former police officer who today works as a private investigator. "This Israel family court judge was provided with dozens of pages of testimony from a leading and respected professional child psychologist who urged the family court to provide me with 45 percent access to his children. Mekayes looked at the papers for no more 15 seconds and placed thousands of dollars of professional testimony to the side. Is this justice or is it gender bias discrimination against men?"

Kobi stated that he has served Israel as both a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and as a police officer for 12 years. "In Israel we are allowed to carry a M-16 but not our own children," he said.

It was a cold, grey overcast day in Kfar Sava. The gloomy weather reflected the moods of the many men who came from Jerusalem, Hafia, Tel Aviv to support one another in solidarity. Some of these men, none of which have criminal records, are restricted to seeing their children only for a few hours under governmental supervision.

Blatant discrimination and the forced separation of father from child stems from an outdated law passed by the Israel Knesset in 1962.
The Family Custodian Act of 1962 clearly states that all children under the age of six will automatically have custody under their mother, unless the mother is violent, drug abuser or negligent. But the cultural miliu by governmental agencies in Israel transcends the age of six.

Joint custody in Israel is rare. Most couples who divorce in Israel find it difficult to decide on anything together. Without the cooperation of both parents in Israel, their is no joint custody or shared parenting. Israel family courts will only accept joint custody arrangements when both sides agree. The father is cast away by the mother, the justice and child welfare systems in Israel as a second class citizen. The dad turns into a "cash machine" paying child support every month while being denied equal access to their children. As a result, children become alienated from their fathers suffering from Parental Child Alienation Syndrome, crying from the immediate and long term adverse behavioral effects of divorce and separation for years to come.

The Israel News Agency contacted Israel family court judge Mekayes who refused comment. The INA also requested comment from Ra'anana Mayor Nachum Hofree. Our calls were never returned.

From the time that the movie Kramer Vs. Kramer hit the movie theaters there has been little movement by Israel courts and some US and England courts to reform.

While he was deployed in Afghanistan, a US Navy Seal wrote a lullaby for his son Sean, whom he calls SS. The song opens: Rock a bye SS ROCK Rock a Bye you sang to me each eve And you gave me rolling rock a byes of dreams I've yet to dream. Each night I'd pray that when I'd awake You'd have safely ROCK'd me home to the greatest gift, the Lord hath given me; my little son named Sean.

Sean may never hear that lullaby again, not because his father Gary died, but because Sean's mother relocated him to Israel.

She visited family in Israel during one of Gary's re-deployments and simply stayed, seeking a divorce from abroad. Israel is notorious for it's archaic system of implementing and enforcing gender bias discrimination through an outdated law from 1962 which "presumes" that the mother will look after the child until the age of six unless the court is convinced she is incapable of doing so. This 43 year-old law, passed by Israel's Parliament is enforced today by the Israel family court system and local child welfare departments. Gender bias discrimination has been outlawed in many Western countries and replaced with best interest of the child or shared parenting.

Gary has unsuccessfully battled the family court system in California, which has jurisdiction over the divorce, for almost two years in order to gain some access to SS. After all, that same court demands he pay hefty child support. Gary comments "I am paying $2,100 a month not to see my son."

This is the new face of father's rights, a face men's rights activists are determined you will see in coming months: the military man who is "processed" by the family courts during his tour of duty or upon his return. A father who returns 'home' to children he cannot see and, often, to support payments he cannot make. As Gary states, "Sometimes I wonder what I risked my life for [in Afghanistan]. I went to fight for freedom but what freedom and what rights mean anything if a man doesn't have the right to be a father to his own child?"

Gary is not alone.
The grassroots organization American Coalition of Fathers and Children (ACFC) has just launched a vigorous ad campaign to educate the public on how anti-father bias in the courts is destroying the family. An ad currently being prepared by the ACFC highlights the dilemma of military dads who are victimized by zero-tolerance and unreasonable legislation that was passed to deal with "deadbeats." Activists are pushing the image of the military father who is victimized by family courts not merely because it is true but primarily because it is effective. That image breaks through the pervasive cultural stereotype that fathers who lose custody or become "deadbeats" are uncaring, unfit, wife beating, child-abusing losers who deserve what they get.

The traditional custody arrangement, with mom as the sole custodian and dad demoted to weekend visitor, may have been painful, but practical, in a family with a 50's-style division of labor; but to the father who knows every Wiggle by name, the pediatrician's number by heart and how to make a bump-free ponytail, such an arrangement could be perceived as an outrage, regardless of what might be more convenient or who is the primary caretaker.

"Custody arrangements that noticeably harmed children are those having the child visit the father for sleepover visits only several times a year. Children in such arrangements, Brinig found, were significantly more likely to suffer from depression and fear of dying young. But whether a child had a sleepover with his father a few times a month or a few times a week didn't seem to influence that child's well-being in any measurable way. Kids who had sleepovers with their fathers several times a month were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than kids who didn't."

In the period following divorce, one study has found, close to half of all children lose contact with their fathers, with that figure rising to more than two-thirds after 10 years.

In a study performed by the American Psychological Association (APA), it was revealed that children from divorced families who either live with both parents at different times or spend certain amounts of time with each parent are better adjusted in most cases than children who live and interact with just one parent, according to new research on custody arrangements and children's adjustment.

Psychologist Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., of AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, Maryland conducted a meta-analysis of 33 studies between 1982 to 1999 that examined 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children. The studies compared child adjustment in joint physical or joint legal custody with sole-custody settings and 251 intact families. Joint custody was defined as either physical custody - where a child spends equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents or shared legal custody - where a child lives with primarily one parent but both parents are involved in all aspects of the child's life.

Children in joint custody arrangements had less behavior and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements. And these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children on the same measures, said Bauserman, "probably because joint custody provides the child with an opportunity to have ongoing contact with both parents."

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and the National Fathers' Resource Center, eighty-six percent of men have at least one child during their lifetimes. Using the 50 percent divorce rate figure, and knowing that fathers lose custody of their children about 80% of the time, it can be calculated that about 34% of American, English and Israel men will experience the loss of child custody sometime during their lives.

It is well-known that noncustodial fathers often experience high levels of psychological distress. Social scientists have made observations such as the following. Wallerstein noted that post divorce visits with children "can lead to depression and sorrow in men who love their children". Ross observed that many divorced fathers are "overwhelmed by feelings of failure and self-hatred," and as a result are "disengaging from a family that is no longer really theirs".

Umberson and Williams highlighted the sense of failure that these fathers experience. As a result, these men "exhibit substantially higher rates of psychological distress and alcohol consumption than do married men." Blankenhorn described non-custodial fathers in this way: "These men are very angry. Indeed, their white-hot sense of injustice can sometimes produce in them the phenomenon of pressured speech, in which emotional intensity derails normal conversational rhythms."

According to Los Angeles divorce consultant Jayne Major: "Divorced men are often devastated by the loss of their children. It's a little known fact that in the United States men initiate only a small number of the divorces involving children. Most of the men I deal with never saw their divorces coming, and they are often treated very unfairly by the family courts."

According to Sociology Professor Augustine Kposow of the University of California at Riverside, "The link between men and their children is often severed because the woman is usually awarded custody. A man may not get to see his children , even with visitation rights. As far as the man is concerned, he has lost his marriage and lost his children and that can lead to depression and suicide."

There have been a rash of father suicides directly related to divorce and mistreatment by the family courts over the past few years. For example, New York City Police Officer Martin Romanchick, a Medal of Honor recipient, hung himself after being denied access to his children and being arrested 15 times on charges brought by his ex-wife, charges the courts deemed frivolous.

Massachusetts father Steven Cook, prevented from seeing his daughter by a protection order based upon unfounded allegations , committed suicide after he was jailed for calling his four-year-old daughter on the wrong day of the week. Darrin White, a Canadian father who was stripped of the right to see his children and was about to be jailed after failing to pay a child support award tantamount to twice his take home pay, hung himself. His 14 year-old daughter Ashlee later wrote to her nation's Prime Minister, saying, "this country's justice system has robbed me of one of the most precious gifts in my life, my father."

Fathers' rights groups contend court bias plays a direct role. One divorced father committed suicide on the steps of San Diego's courthouse, another set his car afire outside Alaska's child-support office. Fathers' rights groups, joined by a few academic experts, see a common denominator in these recent bursts of rage, and ask whether America's family court system could be partly at fault by deepening the despair of many divorced men.

"None of these guys are poster children," said Lowell Jaks, president of the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights. "But when you cause this much pain to so many men, there are going to be repercussions - a certain percentage are going to crack."

Findings largely support the argument that family structure influence child development through its impact on family processes. In other words, children of divorce are at risk for adjustment problems because their parents are less likely to engage in competent, consistent parenting and are more likely to engage in conflict exchanges than parents who are married to each other. Divorce, with its emotional turmoil, time demands and often financial stress increases the custodial mother's own chances of becoming depressed, which in turn tends to disrupt the quality of her parenting, Simons explains. This, in turn, increases the child's risk for adjustment problems.

Compared to fathers in intact families, the divorced, non-residential dads were less likely to help their children solve problems, discuss standards of conduct or enforce discipline, increasing the probability that boys would display conduct problems. "It is essential, especially for sons, that fathers continue to function as a parent," Simons emphasizes. "Simply showing the kids a good time and being a pal doesn't make any difference in terms of developmental outcomes for kids."

But the worst problem that many divorced dads face is being separated from their children and being termed "visitors" by a narcissistic mother who uses an archaic gender biased Israel custody law from 1962, which states that the child automatically goes to the mother with full custody till the age of six.
Many times child welfare wants to assist the father but must wait for the Israel court to have child welfare request more or equal time with the father.

"When couples start talking divorce - they need mediators, not attorneys," says Drora Burnstein, a child psychologist in Tel Aviv. "The attorneys live off of their conflict. The first measure they suggest is to stop all communication, as they believe that communication can be used against the other party in a legal case. These attorneys create what is known as the 'deathblow' for the child to have any sense of present or future family stability."

"Studies show that children whose whose divorcing parents have resolved their disagreements through amicable mediation will have a faster and healthier recovery from the trauma of divorce," Sara Silber, a child psychologist from Ra'anana, Israel told the INA. "I have worked with children of divorce whose parents are fighting each other in court, one can see the suffering and the pain on their faces. It makes me feel very sad, it's heartbreaking, frustrating when I can't reach a parent who is resisting lowering the conflict."

Naftali Shilo, an attorney who has practiced family law in Israel for over 15 years, told the INA:
"The parents should never use the child in their war against each other. The child, an innocent victim, should be left out of any and all conflict. Instead of running to the family court and filing various harassing legal motions, I suggest that the disputing couple first go to a social worker, child psychologist or divorce mediator. To stop wasting time and money, parents need to resolve all issues outside of court."

Shilo adds: "Even if you do not tell the children what is going on they will still know what's happening, they will still suffer from the conflict. Use attorneys to create agreements on shared parenting not to increase tensions which only hurt the child in the present and scars them for life."

"We have been holding demonstrations against gender bias discrimination at Israel family court houses on a regular basis," said Amit, a former officer in the Israel Air Force. "We are now planning a second stage of public awareness. Going from 20 to 50 people protesting at Israel court houses through out the nation to hundreds attending mass rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If we don't address basic human rights regarding our children's future, who will?"




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