In Israel, two parallel legal systems will have jurisdiction over issues related to family law: the religious legal system, which consists of independent courts for each of the 13 religious communities recognized by Israel, and the civil legal system, which includes Family Courts established by the Family Court Law (1995). The religious courts have the authority to rule on matters related to the personal status of members of a married couple, provided that both spouses belong to the same religious denomination. Currently, these courts have exclusive jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorce, while all other family law issues, such as alimony/child support, custody, division of property, etc., fall under the jurisdiction of both religious courts and the civil Family Courts. The terms and conditions of this parallel jurisdiction differ from one religious community to the next, due to the varied applicability of certain provisions of state law.
This paper discusses the Ecclesiastical courts in Israel, including their laws, proceedings and legal procedures, from a gender-responsive perspective. The analysis presented draws on the experiences of women who have filed for divorce, separation, or dissolution/annulment of marriage in these courts. Although the analysis is limited to this type of proceeding, it can be considered representative, as files related to marriage and divorce constitute the majority of the cases dealt with by Christian courts, whose jurisdiction extends only to issues of family law and personal status. The paper examines and compares divorce, separation and dissolution/annulment proceedings heard in the courts of the three largest Christian communities in Israel: Greek Orthodox, Melkite/Greek Catholic, and the Latin Community.