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The place of the father & child support: the bible’s perspective

(Disclaimer: I’m writing this article since our Minister is a Christian, with a hope that his legislation of child support will be influenced by it. I have no intention to convince any of you to become a Christian – I’m not a Christian myself! I just have knowledge of the bible, have researched the scriptures and one of my hobbies is research of international history/cultures)

Payments of child support are not directly mentioned in the bible, although the financial responsibility of the father to the children, even under situations of separation or divorce, is straightforward when you read the bible.

However, the relationship between the father and his children is definitely mentioned in the bible and its importance is highly recognized in the Old Testament: First, in the Ten Commandments, where every child is directed to “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:1-21) and also to obey his father (and mother) “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother”¦“ (Deuteronomy 21, 18). Researchers of the Old Testament have noted an interesting fact – that THE FATHER is placed before the mother in those two verses, while in other places through the bible, the mother is usually mentioned to have stronger influence on the childrens’ life.

Divorce is not a modern thing, it happened also in ancient times, yet because the bible didn’t mention direct payments of child support, The Talmud (a collection of biblical articles written from 400BC to 400AC) has decided to fix this and added specific directions of payments of child support. The guidelines were that “a father must be responsible for child support payments until the child reaches the age of 6″ and if the child is in need (i.e. hungry for food) then “the father must be responsible to finance the child until he is grown up” (=13 years old).

Maymonides (the “Rambam” – (which is one of the most important figures in the eyes of all three religions – Jewish, Christians and Muslims, lived in Spain, Egypt and Morocco between 1135AC to 1204AC) has related to the relationship between a father and children in divorce, and wrote that “the commandment to respect the father is including the (obvious) expectation to spend time with the father” (Mishna Kidushin A, verse 7).

If you think that all this historical background is disconnected from reality – well it is not. I will now describe how those biblical values have affected the Supreme Court in Israel, when child support issues were on the discussion.
The legal system in Israel is interesting for New Zealanders to look at, because the modern Israel has adopted the British legal system, but on the other hand it is still influenced from the biblical heritage that is ordering to “respect the father” as described above.

Firstly, in 1943 when Israel was under the British mandate, the Jewish Rabbis have extended the obligation for child support payments from the age of 6 to the age of 15, and then under the Israeli government they extended it to the age of 18. However, when a child is not respecting the father and this includes circumstances in which the child refuses to visit the father at his place, child support payments are lowered, and in extreme cases – are totally cancelled.
In 1997, an Israeli district court judge Miller A in Tel Aviv said:

it is not easy for court to order the cancellation of child support payments, just because there isn’t any day-to-day relationship between the children and the father. The natural thinking is to point the responsibility of the divorce at the parents, what means that the children should not bear financial stress from it. However, a father is not a visa card – so when children reach the age of 14 to 15 years and they refuse to have communication with their father, this is humiliating for the father and offensive. Such kids should not earn any financial gains from their father. From the reasons I stated before, and because the children can’t yet have financial independence, I can’t cancel the child support payments, nethertheless the father didn’t apply for it. My decision is to continue to child support payments but only for necessity needs – i.e. for nothing which will be for leisure or for extra lifestyle“ (Tel Aviv court file 14652/97)

The Supreme Court in Israel had several discussions about the child support payments, in cases where the kids are disconnected from the father (quiet a common scene in New Zealand, where the law forces the father to pay child support even if the kids live in Australia or in other countries).

In 1993 the supreme court judge Shamgar wrote in one case: “sometimes court can lower the child support payments, but needs to be done only in extreme cases of disrespect to the father” (file 1880-94), and in another supreme court case in 1994, judge Shamgar said “cancelling child support payments is an extreme step that court should use only in extreme circumstances”. In 2011,the same judge Shamgar has decided to reduce the child support payments by 50%, even that the kids were younger than 15, because:

“¢ The children ignored the father for three years, and behaved to him like a complete stranger
“¢ The father tried to make contact with the kids, with no success
“¢ The father tried to employ a professional that will help to recover the connection with the kids, with no success.
“¢ The mother chose “to sit on the fence” and not to help the father to recover the relationship with the kids

Another case study to look at, is Israeli family court decision to completely suppress all child support payments of a father to his three children, all of them older than 15 years old, and to fine the mother with 10,000NIS (around $3,000NZ). This happened in 2008 in the family court at Haifa, family court file number 59890-08. The judge explained that his decision is based on the following facts:

“¢ The kids have refused to maintain any relationship with the father
“¢ The father has asked to build relationship with the kids, but they refused
“¢ Whenever the children or their mother needed money they knew how to approach the father. But they never approached him for anything else.
“¢ The mother had very good financial status after the divorce – she sold the family house and gained profit from it.
“¢ The mother was motivated to influence the children not to see their father, because her new husband acted like “father for the kids”

I hope that those cases that I exposed today from the other side of the planet will present that there are ways to legislate a fair judicial system, which is looking at the father not only as “an asset” or as an ATM card, but also as an important figure in the life and the development of the children. New Zealand (as long as the US and AU) needs to introduce a new factors to the child support system – VALUES and RESPECT TO THE FATHER.