Family Courts – Specialist Judges and Social Services Support

Philip Marcus was among the first judges to be appointed to the Family Court in Israel. He spent 15 years of his judicial career in the Jerusalem Family Court, five of them as Chief Judge (Deputy President of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court for Family Matters.) After retirement, he wrote a paper proposing reforms to the system, many of which have been enacted.

The Israeli Family Court is based on the understanding that courts dealing with family matters – disputes between members of a family, and issues between the state and individuals, including child protection and guardianship of persons with disabilities – need to have the qualifications and powers to enable them to resolve issues while taking account of the effect such resolution may have on the family of the individual concerned. This requires a multidisciplinary approach. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that family courts are so constituted, and of such courts to operate in such a way as to minimize the detrimental effects of litigation.

Social workers and psychologists play an essential role in family litigation. Judges need input from well-qualified and experienced professionals who have specialized training that allows them to understand the dynamics of the family concerned as well as the social and psychological effects of the dispute, of the high conflict co-parenting, and of the court process on all participants involved, beyond the pleadings of the parties and the evidence in the case. This is especially the case where a child is involved.

The Family Courts in Israel were set up under legislation in 1995. The principles on which they were founded include:

  • A specialist court, with jurisdiction in all family matters (except dissolution of marriage (i.e. the divorce itself), which is in the exclusive jurisdiction of religious courts);
  • Specialist judges who, in order to be appointed, are required to have knowledge and experience in the family law field;
  • Accessibility – the courts are located in most population centers;
  • An in-house social services unit, which assists the litigants and the court;
  • Broad discretion of the judge in matters of procedure and evidence, including the power to require the Legal Aid Office to appoint a lawyer for the child;
  • The power to give any order which may be necessary to ensure the welfare of a child, even when such an order has not been requested, subject only to both parties being given an opportunity to make submissions about the order proposed;
  • Availability of legal aid for litigants with low income, as well as for children;
  • Expert witnesses appointed by the court, not by the parties, and are chosen from a list of experts with proven knowledge in the field, and a cap imposed on the fees they may charge;
  • Arrangements for hearing the views of a child whose interests may be affected by the proceedings.

Family court judges are required to attend topic-related residential seminars every year to ensure that they are up to date with academic and therapeutic issues. Judges of the religious courts, Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Christian, who also have jurisdiction in cases involving children, also hold in-service training seminars, and over the years there have been successful joint seminars for all judges who deal, in the various courts, with family matters.

In contacts with judges, lawyers, court administrators and others, from five continents, in the context of international conferences and articles where the Israeli family court system has been presented, there is a strong consensus that this system answers many of the problems presented by family courts in other places.

Philip Marcus has been consulted by individuals and officials of many countries, including in Africa, the EU, and common law and civil law jurisdictions, and has made recommendations for reform.

You may contact him for consultations at………… Fees by agreement.


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