The Family Court’s Authorities

Ruling in family matters in Israel is in the “hands” of two judicial authorities. The first is the rabbinic court (or other religious courts such as the Shari or Christian courts) which rules in matters if marriage and divorce. The second is the family court. In this short article I will elaborate regarding the role and jurisdictions of the family court.

Family law in Israel

Family law includes a few areas such as marriage, divorce, division of property between the couple, custody, child adoption, surrogacy, child alimony, financial dispute within the family, wills and inheritance, disputes caused by inheritance, etc. As mentioned, ruling in family matters is done by two authorities. The Rabbinic court which has the sole right to rule in matters of marriage and divorce. This right is statutory by the Rabbinical Courts Law (“Marriage and Divorce”) 5713- 1953. The Rabbinic court can also rule in matters derived from marriage and divorce such as alimony, claim for receiving the amount of money stated in the Ktuba, claim for reconciliation, etc. in addition the Rabbinic court can rule in matters of child custody and division of property between the couple but only in cases where the claim for divorce includes these matters. The same goes for the other religious courts, each for its own relevant religion.

The second authority is the family court which can rule in any matter which is NOT marriage and divorce since this is in the sole jurisdiction of the Rabbinic court.

The establishment of the Family Court

There is no dispute on the importance of this court, with its expertise in family law, however, it was only established in 1995 with the Family Court Law 5755-1995. This court was established due to the recommendations of a special committee that was appointed to look into the area of family laws in Israel. This committee – “the Sheinbaum Committee” and it recommended to establish a specific court which will deal with family matters.

Nowadays we have family courts in all parts of Israel. The family court is ranked as a Magistrates Court, its judges are form the Magistrates Court but have a specific specialty in the family area. The judges are nominated by a special committee, headed by the Minister of Justice.

The family court is, as mentioned, a “regular” court but, due to the fact that it is unique when it comes to rules of procedure and evidence, this court has the authority to veer, in special cases, for the rules of procedure and evidence. This could happen in cases where justice and seeking the truth overrule. The judgment of the Family Court can be appealed at the District Court.

The hearings are held in the Family Court in camera (behind closed doors). This is due to the fact that the claims heard in court involve the personal lives of the people who came to it, which requires strict protection of the privacy of the parties. This is contrary to criminal or civil courts. That being said, when it comes to claims that concern inheritance disputes within the family, they are usually not discussed behind closed doors.

The Family Court’s jurisdictions

At mentioned, the family court has jurisdiction to rule in legal disputes within the family, except for marriage and divorce. According to the law, the term “Family Member” is determined as: husband and wife (including Common-Law couples), parents and children (including adopted children and their adopting parents), grandparents and grandchildren, custodians and under guardians, siblings etc. any dispute between the above mentioned parties will be dealt with in the family court.

The subjects that the family court has jurisdiction to rule are: alimony (parallel to the Rabbinic court), determination of fatherhood, return of abducted children under the Hague Convention, changing of a name, determining a person’s age, inheritance or wills, dissolution of civil marriage (religious marriage is dealt with in the various religious courts), adoption, property or division of property between a couple, surrogacy, custody and joint custody, financial disputes between members of family etc.

To sum:

The family court is the instance responsible for judging family law. The proceeding in this court are complex and legal knowledge and experience are needed. If you are facing a hearing at the family court I strongly suggest you consult with an experienced family lawyer.