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 these 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 in common law and civil law jurisdictions, including in Africa, and the EU, and has made recommendations for reform.

Fees by arrangement.

For more information and to arrange a consultation, please contact:


Paper (in Hebrew): The Future of the Family Court: New Paradigms, Statutory Amendments, and More January 2013

Position Paper:  on Report of the Committee to Review the Policy of the Ministry on Removal of Children to Residential Care and on Visitation (The Silman Report)

Delivered to the Minister and the Director General, Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, July 2014


Position Paper: on the Arrangements for Settlement of Family Disputes Bill, 5774-2014

Delivered to the Minister of Justice and the Chairman of the Constitution, Law and Legislation Committee of the Knesset, August 2014

Paper (together with Dr Eliezer Perl): A Medical, Legal and Halachic Guide to Determining Capacity to Make a Will or a Gift

Published (in Hebrew) in Assia, Journal of Jewish Medical Ethics and Halacha, Jerusalem,Vol. 24 No 3-4 pp 61-85, October 2014

Section for Chapter: Expert Evidence in the Israeli Family Court

Published in Chapter by Jonathan W Gould et al, Scientific and Professional Knowledge for Family Court, section on International Perspectives on Admissibility Standards and Rules of Evidence

In Leslie Drozd, Michael Saini, Nancy Olesen (eds) Parenting Plan Evaluations, Second Edition, 24-27, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016

Article: Children’s Dispute Resolution: The Israeli Experience

Published in: Katherine Lynch and Anne Scully-Hill (eds) International Perspectives on Disputes About Children and Child Protection: Collected Essays on Parental Responsibility and Children’s Dispute Resolution, 167-183, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016

Article: Effective Child Protection – The Israeli Approach to Protecting Vulnerable Children: Integrating Judicial and Social Work Perspectives

Published in: Katherine Lynch and Anne Scully-Hill (eds) International Perspectives on Disputes About Children and Child Protection: Collected Essays on Preventing Abuse, Parental Responsibilities and Empowering Children 137-173, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016

Paper (with Dr Eliezer Perl): Guardianship of disabled persons: Medical, Halachic and Legal Aspects

Published (in Hebrew) in Assia, Journal of Jewish Medical Ethics and Halacha Vol. 95-96, pp 35-77 Jerusalem, April 2016

Article: The Israel Family Court – Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Jurisprudential Therapy from the Start

Published in The International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, Special Issue: Therapeutic Jurisprudence Today and Tomorrow, Vol. 63, 68-75 March-April 2019

Editorial (on proposals for family court reform). Irish Journal of Family Law, Vol 23 No 1 Winter 2020

Innovative Programs in Israel for Prevention & Responding to Parental Alienation: Education, Early Identification and Timely, Effective Intervention  Family Court Review, Volume 58 Issue 2, 545-599 April 2020

Parental Alienation: Legal Responses International Family Law, Policy and Practice (in press)



Lecture: Children and Elders in Family Court Nofei Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, June 2020

Introductory lecture: Child Psychological Abuse, aka Parental Alienation, the Israeli Family Court Approach Parental Alienation Change Makers Conference (UK) September 2020

Submission: Legal Aid in England and Wales: Position Paper submitted to House of Commons Justice Committee on the Future of Legal Aid, October 2020

Online lecture: How Should Courts Deal with Allegations of Parental Alienation? Online Parental Alienation Conference, Parental Alienation Europe (Dublin, Ireland) with La Dolce Vita, (Derry, Northern Ireland) Dublin/Derry, December 2020

Webinar: Parental Alienation is Child Psychological Abuse. How to Prevent it. How Should Courts Deal With It. Ukraine, December 2020


Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee, Debates on Family Disputes Resolution Regulations (Amendment No. 3) August 2020

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children October 2020

Minister of Justice, Malta 2020-2021

Minister for Families, Malta 2020-2021

Chief Judge of District Courts, Ireland November 2020

Judges and Social Workers, Netherlands 2020-2021

Senior Family Court Judge, England 2020-2021

Minister of Justice, Northern Ireland, 2020-2021

Family Law and Family Courts reform: Scotland: material submitted 2020

Family Law and Family Courts reform: Northern Ireland: material submitted 2020

Domestic Abuse Bill: (England and Wales): Consultation on drafting, January 2021