Child Custody & Jewish Divorce in New York City
A guide by the Levoritz Law Firm

As a Jewish Couple comes to the decision, either unilaterally or bilaterally, to file for a divorce, they may be wondering about how both Jewish Law and New York State Civil law treats child custody issues. Read on to find out the differences and similarities between these two legal systems on child custody issues.

New York Law and Child Custody Issues

According to the New York Court laws, the New York courts can make order’s about the child’s custody only until the child is 18. The court can only dictate decisions on custodial issues based on what is in the child’s best interest under the “best interest of the child presumption.” However, if a civil court in New York issues no court order, then both parents have equal rights to physical and legal custody of the child.

New York Civil law determines their Child Support requirements based on the set of laws under the “Child Support Standards Act.” This Act provides guidelines on determining the amount of child support needed for each child during divorce proceedings. In general, the guidelines start by examining the gross income of the two individuals wishing to get divorced, and then it uses a formula to determine how much child support is owed per month. Suppose one parent is ordered to pay child support, and they do not pay. In that case, a New York Civil Court can enforce the child support payment by issuing a monetary judgment, which states the individual must pay the child support, or they could be put on probation or jailed.

Jewish Law and Child Custody Issues

In Judaism, there is a belief that divorce dissolves families and weakens the belief in the family as a critically important social unit, and negatively impacts the children of a divorced couple. Most divorcing couples prefer that their children’s best interests come first, which can be solved by both the parameters of Jewish Law and Civil law.

Jewish laws were created with the goal of raising children in a two-parent household. When parents divorce, this leaves the divorced couple’s children up for determination for their custodial living arrangements. In some Orthodox communities, the “Get,” or the Jewish Divorce Document issued by the Jewish Courts, is used as a tool for a husband to force his ex-wife to “hand over” the custody to their children. The potential stigma of a “Mamzer” or a child born to Jewish parents whose relationship is incestuous or otherwise forbidden by Jewish law, a label that may be attached to children and subsequent ramifications are too great to determine by the Get, and the wife will seek the assistance of the Civil Courts in her divorce matter.

Another aspect to consider with Jewish Divorce is child support. You can ask Beit Din (Jewish Court) to address the topic of child support for your divorce. The Jewish Court will then initiate your child support dispute through a formal proceeding called a “Din Torah,” which is an agreement to go to arbitration if the divorced couple can not agree to a decision about child support. If the couple can not agree on child support issues, Beit Din will decide on the divorcing couple’s behalf. However, for some couples, the Beit Din will look towards the Civil laws of New York State to issue a decision.

The legal power the Jewish court holds over divorcing teams is derived from the arbitration agreement. In general, people should not agree to arbitration because it is difficult to set aside the decision of the arbitrator unless it is arbitrary and capricious or there was some sort of conflict by one of the rabbis that caused a bias while deciding upon the child custody issues.

What are the similarities between New York and Jewish laws regarding custodial issues?

● Best Interest of the Children

New York State and Jewish Law indicate that the custodial arrangement for the children as a product of a divorce should be formulated with the interests of the child(ren) at the forefront. Both sets of laws state that it is in the children’s best interest to be consulted about which parent to live with or spend the majority of the time with, and their needs are the first priority in any disputed custodial issue.
● Child Support

Both New York Law and Jewish Law encourage the utilization of child support by the non-custodial parent or the parent that the child does not live with for the majority of the time. Under New York law, a child can receive child support until the child turns 21. The exceptions to this rule are if they marry before 21 years of age or if they join the military.

● Visitation Rights

Jewish Law and New York State Civil law states that visitation rights are only granted to parents when it is not deleterious or harmful to the children in question. Both sets of laws also dictate that it is an ever-changing right, and if one parent were to be abusive, drunk, or dangerous to the children, then their visitation rights would be removed under a court order.

What are the Differences between New York and Jewish laws regarding custodial issues?

● Child Support

Unlike the Civil Code and Regulations under the New York legal system, the Jewish Court or Beit Din does not provide specific guidance on handling child support matters. This means that the matter may be decided differently depending on the decision-making process of Beit Din. However, as discussed above, it is generally advised not to agree to the Jewish court’s arbitration as it can be difficult to overturn their decision unless it is arbitrary and capricious. It’s best to leave this decision-making to the NY State Courts so that they can provide a fair assessment of child support and custodial parent issues.

● Additional Expenses for the Children

Unlike the New York Civil Courts, the Beit Din can also guide other expenses that children require, such as yeshiva tuition, camp tuition, bar/bat mitzvah celebration costs, wedding expenses, gap-year programs in Israel, and other similar Jewish events that require costs for the children. However, NY Civil Courts can guide on these issues if posted as an issue during the court proceedings.

● Custodial Parent

The Rabbinical Court, under Jewish law, operates on the belief that it is in the child’s best interest up to age six, whether boys or girls, that the custodial rights are granted to the mother. However, in New York law, unlike both Jewish Law and other jurisdictions in the United States, there is no presumption of custody. As a policy matter, New York State law tries to issue joint custody whenever this is in the child’s best interest.

Need a Jewish Divorce Attorney?

The Jewish Divorce attorneys at the Levoritz Law firm are ready and willing to answer any of your questions regarding New York or Jewish divorces. Call today for a FREE consultation at (855) 213-3104.

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