Family Courts in Israel feature what are known as support or assistance units which function in conjunction with the court. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, they are staffed by social workers, psychologists and lawyers, whose role is to help families resolve their conflicts outside of the court. The services offered range from mediating a full divorce agreement, to reaching interim agreements about visitation schedules for newly separated parents. Sometimes they will even help families find their way to a reconciliation.
Like anything, there are strengths and weaknesses to the unit, but as a lawyer, I have had clients make use of their services with success.
Now, the Rabbinical Court system is beginning to bring these support units into the Beit Din system, a development which I see as positive.
The Jerusalem Post carried an article about this, which I post in full:
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry will expand its family court social services units in rabbinical courts this year by adding such assistance departments in more cities across Israel.
The units, designed to provide social services to families going through legal battles such as divorces, have been around for 15 years within courts for family affairs across the country.
Last year, the Knesset passed a law allowing the ministry to incorporate these services adjacent to rabbinical courts where families affairs and divorces are also handled.
So far, these services are available in Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rehovot and Tiberias, and are expected to be expanded to Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva and Netanya in the next year.
The social workers and psychologists of the units, who are employees of the ministry, offer families in crisis different services such as assessment, consultation and mediation in their personal family arguments.
“Most of our activity is about the children,” explained Anat Inbar, director of the family court social services units. She explained that families who are on trial are referred to the units by the judge and can receive the necessary assistance for free. “The whole idea is to calm the situation and try to avoid legal battles.”
According to Inbar, over the past year, more than 1,000 families have turned to the units for help and about half of the legal struggles addressed have been successfully resolved.
“It took 10 years to install this system in rabbinical courts,” she noted. “We’re talking about really difficult conflicts with all sorts of accusations…
For example, if a couple divorces and the mother wants to move to a different city; or now, more than ever, we have fathers who really battle to receive custody, which wasn’t this way before.”
Inbar explained that the units deal with issues they believe can be solved on a therapy level and not via a legal platform.
“We do what a judge can’t,” she said.
In cases where the social workers and psychologists are not able to help, they refer the families to other outlets. “We are kind of like an emergency room for family affairs. We give first assessment and treat what we can treat. If they need more, we send them to a surgeon, so to speak,” said Inbar.
The rabbinical courts’ management explained that they had been interested in providing such services for a while now and these units “facilitate and improve the level of services offered to the public on how to deal with these situations and how to care for children in this situations.”