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Obtaining Israeli legal status via the gradual process – what happens if the couple divorces or breaks up?

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

It may happen that a mixed couple (an Israeli and a foreign citizen) gets divorced or breaks up their relationship while they are in the process of obtaining legal status in Israel for the foreign spouse, whether due to being formally married or living together in a common-law marriage. Under what circumstances may the foreign spouse remain in Israel even after the breakup of the relationship? The relevant regulations are quite complex, but attorney Tal Ofir, a specialist in Israeli immigration law, sheds some light on the issue in this article.

Our law offices, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in immigration law. Our attorneys have extensive experience in accompanying mixed couples in obtaining legal status for the foreign spouse, including cases where the gradual process is halted due to divorce or breakup of the relationship.

Israeli legal status divorce

Dissolving the relationship while in the process of obtaining legal status

For a foreign spouse of an Israeli citizen, whether in an official marriage or a common law marriage, to obtain legal status, they must meet many conditions set by the Interior Ministry concerning married couples and common law couples. The foreign spouse must undergo a gradual process, during which their visa is periodically extended to enable them to stay in Israel.

Sometimes, during the process of arranging legal status for the foreign spouse, their relationship with their Israeli partner breaks up (or, if they are married, the couple undergoes a divorce). The fate of the foreign spouse in such a situation is then brought into question. Some mistakenly believe that divorce or break-up leads to an automatic cancellation of the foreign spouse’s right to remain in Israel. We will explain the regulations governing this issue and see that it is not necessarily as black-and-white as it appears, especially in cases where the couple is married and has children.

Processes after break-up of the relationship

The regulation dealing with this issue states that after reporting the dissolution of the relationship, an interview is held to evaluate the foreign spouse’s intentions to stay in Israel. Then the gradual process is terminated and it is decided whether to transfer the foreign spouse’s case to an inter-ministerial committee. This committee comprises representatives from government ministries, the Israeli police, and the Population Authority. The committee’s recommendation is submitted to the Director of the Population Authority, who will decide whether the foreign spouse can stay in Israel on humanitarian grounds. The definition of “humanitarian grounds” is very broad and depends on the specific circumstances of each case.

Conditions for transferring the case to the inter-ministerial committee

In principle, the regulation only applies to couples who were married and have children together. If the couple has joint children, the case will be transferred to the inter-ministerial committee if all the following conditions are met: the Population Authority is convinced of the sincerity of the relationship while the couple was together; the foreign spouse was granted a temporary residence visa as a result of the gradual process; at least half of the period of the gradual process has passed; the children are in the foreign spouse’s custody or in ongoing contact with them; and an opinion by a welfare official or social worker states that the foreign spouse’s departure would significantly harm the children.

It is important to note that exceptions to the regulatory requirements may be permitted, if humanitarian reasons are found which are not related to the ending of the couple’s relationship. That is, the regulation should apply to common-law couples as well, or couples who do not meet some other conditions. An example is a case in which the couple is formally married, but in fact live apart. If they have children, or some other significant attachment to Israel, the foreign spouse’s case is still likely to be brought before the inter-ministerial committee.

Options for appealing Interior Ministry decisions

If a decision is made not to transfer the case to the inter-ministerial committee, an internal appeal may be filed within 21 days of the decision. The Population Authority Director’s decision, following the committee’s recommendation, may be appealed to the appellate court under the Entrance to Israel Law. An administrative appeal may then even be made to the Administrative Affairs Court. For a detailed discussion on appealing Interior Ministry decisions, see this article on our site.

Contact an attorney who specializes in immigration law

Even in cases where a relationship is dissolved or a couple divorces during the process of obtaining legal status for the foreign spouse, it may still be possible for them to remain in Israel. To this end, the foreign spouse must do everything possible to recognize and protect their rights. If you need advice or assistance on this issue, contact our offices and an attorney from our firm will be glad to be of service. Our law offices specialize in immigration law and obtaining legal status for foreign spouses in Israel, including those whose relationships have ended in divorce or breakup.

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