Israeli Single Mothers Could Lose Child Support Payments Following Coronavirus Lay-offs

Activists, bureaucrats call on lawmakers to change a 2002 law that prevents unemployment payments from being considered the same as salary, slashing child support for the jobless

Etti Manshur in Lod, Israel, March 29, 2020.
Ilan Assayag

Thousands of single mothers who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis are at risk of losing a major part of their child-support payments, Haaretz has learned.

Many single mothers get child support payments from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, because their former partners don’t pay the sum determined by the court during divorce proceedings. But how much they receive is dependent on their salary; the higher the salary, the lower her child support payment. However, since 2002, unemployment payments are considered a separate category, not a replacement for salary, the way maternity leave payments are.

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In practice, this means that a woman who earns 3,000 shekels per months, and was awarded a further 2,000 shekels a month in child support by a court, will get those 2,000 shekels from the National Insurance Institute. But a woman who gets unemployment payments of 3,000 shekels a month and in the exact same legal situation, would only get 434 shekels in child support a month.

Some 7,500 single mothers are likely to be affected. One is Etti Manshur, 42, of Lod, in central Israel, who is divorced and raising her three children alone. She works as a bookkeeper and lives on a modest salary. A court set her child support payments at 3,000 shekels, but because her ex went bankrupt and she is working, her child support was cut by two-thirds, so now she gets only 1,000 shekels a month in national insurance payments.

Emil Salman

Two weeks ago Manshur was sent on unpaid leave and she applied for unemployment, only to learn that this request was going to void her eligibility for child support. “I’m scared that they will take away my entire allowance,” she told Haaretz. “I’m a lioness, I work hard and fairly to support my children. But instead of the state helping me and my children at a time when we are in the worst possible situation, it’s undermining us. Why take the child support away from children because their mother – like the rest of the country – was put on unpaid leave? I’m very afraid they are going to restrict my bank account next month and I won’t be able to pay my bills.”

Under current law, single mothers who lose their jobs thus suffer a double financial blow. Not only will their children have to make do with their mother’s reduced income, their right to child support is affected. Sources in the National Insurance Institute told Haaretz that they have tried to get this law changed many times without success, and that they believe it’s a harmful policy. “We believe that the change in the law made in the early 2000s did a terrible injustice to the weakest population,” one source said. The institute has already appealed to the Knesset to change the law.

Many mothers have already contacted the Israel Women’s Network and organizations that are members of the Coalition to Ensure Child Support Payments. The network wrote to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Affairs Minister Ofir Akunis, saying that given the exceptional circumstances, adjustments must be made to prevent underprivileged groups from sinking even more into poverty.

“Single mothers belong to a high-risk group for financial collapse during the current crisis,” said Michal Gera Margaliot, director of the women's network. “These women will specifically not get their basic rights during this period – full unemployment alongside child support. The National Insurance Institute justifiably eased the conditions for getting unemployment; now it must take the required step and allow full unemployment payments, which by definition are less than their regular salaries, to these women without harming their regular allowance.”

“According to treasury estimates, in normal times, 42 percent of men do not pay their child support. During this crisis, this number is expected to rise, because most of those who owe child support have lost their sources of income,” says attorney Keren Horowitz, director of the Rackman Center at Bar-Ilan University, member of the Coalition to Ensure Child Support Payments.

Ohad Zwigenberg

“In practice most of the living expenses fall on the women, with whom the children live most of the time, and now it isn’t clear how they’ll manage,” Horowitz added. “The state must provide solutions in such instances.”

Horowitz also noted that, “The right to child support is the children’s basic, existential and independent right. It is an obligation of a parent toward his children, whose source is a court ruling, and it isn’t proper for this right to be undermined because mothers lose their jobs against their wills.”