Family related law have dramatically changed on 17 July 2016 with the enactment of the Family Dispute Litigation Arrangement (Temporary Order), 2014.
The aim of the Family Dispute Litigation Arrangement is to help parties consensually settle family disputes and reduce the need for legal litigation. It is important to clarify that this law applies to spouses, parents and children in matters of marriage and divorce, alimony and child support, any matter relating to a child under 18 pursuant to the Legal Competence and Guardianship Law, 1962, excluding claims under the Hague Convention (Abducted Children Return), 1991 and child paternity/maternity. In other words, the said law does not apply to a claim filed under the Inheritance Law and/or a claim where the parties are not just the spouses/parents and children (i.e. a claim between siblings or where a party is the legal advisor, such as petitions for appointing a guardian for an adult).
In most cases today, a party seeking to file a claim is required to first submit a structured form to the Family or Rabbinical Court – Petition for Dispute Settlement – which will not include any arguments or facts. It is only after the said petition is submitted and the required stay of proceedings elapses that the claim can be filed.
The instance to which the claim will later be filed will be determined by the party who first submitted the dispute settlement petition. Thus the importance of being first to submit the dispute settlement petition.
It is important to note that submitting a petition of dispute settlement to a certain instance does not obligate the petitioner to select the said instance. In other words, where a party chose to submit the dispute settlement petition to the Rabbinical Court, the said party – after the stay of proceedings – may choose to file a claim with the Family Court. However, if 15 days have passed since the end of the stay of proceedings and the dispute settlement petitioner failed to file a claim or filed a claim related only to several of the issues under dispute, the other party may turn to any instance to file a claim on any matter of the dispute that has not yet been filed. Where two dispute settlement petitions were filed to separate instances, there may be a dispute regarding jurisdiction based on the time of submission and legal representation is recommended in this case.
Pursuant to the Litigation Arrangement Law, once a dispute settlement petition is filed, the parties are invited to four “Mahut” meetings (information, introduction and coordination) with a social worker and sometimes a lawyer from the aid unit (subject to aid unit discretion).
Upon submitting the dispute settlement petition, the instance secretariat will issue an invitation to a meeting at the aid unit. An invitation to Mahut meetings is equivalent to a subpoena to court. In other words, such meetings must be attended and where a party fails to appear, the legal instance may impose expenses. In addition, the parties must appear at the first meeting on their own, without their attorneys. However, the parties may consult with their attorneys prior to the meeting and even ask to consult with them over the phone during the initial meeting.
Upon conclusion of the initial meeting, either another meeting will be scheduled (to which the parties may be accompanied by lawyers) or the parties will be referred to external mediation. It is important to clarify that even during dispute settlement at the aid unit, we recommend that the parties conduct serious and professional negotiations toward formulating arrangements to benefit all of the parties involved. Where the social worker believes there is no more room for further discussion or where any of the parties states that it no longer wishes the intervention of the aid unit, the parties will undergo legal proceedings. It is important to properly consider the approach to continued dispute settlement, while consulting with the lawyers on the implications of such decisions.
A stay of proceedings applies as of submitting the petition for dispute resolution and for 60 days, where no claims can be filed. A petition may be filed to shorten or extend this period, utilizing one of the alternatives set forth in the Litigation Arrangement Law. In additions, the parties may agree to extend the stay of proceedings in an attempt to settle the dispute without legal deliberation.
Nevertheless, the parties may petition for temporary relief during the stay of proceedings, such as a petition for an attachment order, petition for a stay of exit order or petition to retain the status quo. In addition, in exceptional cases in which the interval until the first Mahut meeting will cause real damage to the parties or their children, as the case may be, a party may also petition for urgent relief during the stay of proceedings. Such petitions may be a petition for temporary alimony / child support or a petition to ensure minor contact with each of the parents.
It is important to note that although a party petitioned for dispute settlement in a certain instance, the other party may petition to the other instance for temporary/urgent relief. Furthermore, the party petitioning for dispute settlement is not obligated by the other party’s selection of instance and he/she may file petitions for temporary/urgent relief to an instance upon his/her discretion. However, once a party filed a petition for temporary/urgent relief to a certain instance, he/she is committed to further filing any other petition of temporary/urgent relief thereto. This can thus lead to a situation in which Party A files a petition for dispute settlement to the court, Party B files a petition for temporary/urgent relief to the Rabbinical Court and then Party A files a petition for temporary/urgent relief to the court. Alternately, there may be a situation in which Party A filed a petition for dispute resolution to the court, then filed a petition for temporary/urgent relief to the Rabbinical Court and then Party B files a petition for temporary/urgent relief to the court. In other words, several legal instances will concurrently deliberate over the matters of the same family during the stay of proceedings. However, the instance to which the petition for dispute settlement/temporary/urgent relief is submitted cannot determine the authority to deliberate over the claim to be submitted after the stay of proceedings.
It is important to emphasize that legal counsel and lawyer accompaniment is recommended even when filing a petition for dispute settlement. Filing a petition for dispute settlement does not nullify the need for professional advice and guidance. This includes legal advice on propositions formed through the aid unit or external mediation, accompaniment to meetings, filing petitions and responses during the stay or proceedings, selection of the instance for petitioning for a temporary/urgent relief, representation in related hearings (if any), etc.