Friday, February 06, 2015

Jewish Law and Divorce

Even though marriage and family are among the cornerstones of Jewish Life, there are times when Jewish Law recognizes that divorce is the only right way.

In theory, a husband promises to financially compensate a wife and free her in the Ketuba, the document incorrectly known as a marriage contract. The wife doesn't sign it; only the husband does. A contract is signed by both sides. Since only the husband signs the Ketuba, it is more a legally binding witnessed pledge to the wife by the husband. The man promises large amounts of money if something goes wrong.

That's great in theory, but we all know that reality is different. It's rare to hear of a man who admits the marriage must end, even if he initiates proceedings,  and is willing to financially compensate the wife and end the marriage by giving her a Jewish Gett (divorce document.)

Yes, I know of cases in which the husband was the one to initiate the divorce and then refused to complete it, give his wife a Gett and finish all legal and financial matters between them.

I have an idea that would help in those cases. Any man who comes to a Beit Din, Jewish Court, to initiate divorce must deposit the Gett with the court. That means that as soon as the wife is ready, her Gett is fully signed and waiting for her. That will also stop men from frivolous divorce cases just to pressure and harass their wives. And if you want to make it extra fair, then any woman who initiates must leave a legally signed document saying she will agree to accept a Gett the minute it is offered.

No doubt, the Batei Din will have less work to do once they make it clear that only people truly serious about divorce can initiate it.

I have no idea what the background of this story of the man who has refused his wife a Gett almost twenty years is, and I really don't want to start searching, but I admire the man who recognized him and sent him packing.


Netivotgirl said...

Excellent idea Batya! For some reason, I don't think it will be so simple but it sounds like a marvelous idea! Kudos! Maybe you should pass this idea on to the proper channels.

Leah, Maaleh Adumim said...

it "sounds good" but really - you are assuming that the side that initiates the divorce is the side at fault. that is not always the case. in fact, *very frequently* it is *not* the case. suppose the husband is abusive. of course he doesn't mind staying married. the wife is the one who (probably after many years of suffering) initiates the divorce. but she deserves a fair share of the community property, probably requires child support, etc. why should she give up her rights just because she was the one who finally said "enough"? as it is, abused wives often hesitate to initiate a divorce. the result of a law like the one you suggest could make it even more difficult for abused wives to free themselves from an abusive marriage.

(and of course it could go both ways. a wife might be at fault or negligent in some way, and the husband might be the one to finally initiate a divorce. but in most cases, the wife is in the weaker position.)

Batya said...

Esther, thanks, but what are "proper channels?"

Leah, this idea of mine doesn't force the "conditions," meaning custody, finances etc. It just means that for a man to initiate a divorce, which is sometimes just to force the wife to do his bidding, once the wife realizes that she needs him like a hole in the head, the divorce is waiting for her. The Beit Din should still have them try counseling etc, but he can't initiate and then become a siruv gett, which does happen.

Tzivia in MamaLand said...

Maybe I'm not clear on what's different about this from the current procedure? I received my get months after my husband gave it, in a different city, years before our civil divorce. I asked him to do it right away because we both knew he was moving away from Yiddishkeit and I suspected that in a few months he might dismiss the whole thing as total nonsense. So I arranged with the local Chabad rabbi in his small community to make it as easy as possible for him - very simple, in and out. I think it was 4 months later that I received it, but that whole time, I had tremendous peace of mind knowing it was taken care of. (I don't know if he ever went back into a shul after that.)

Leah, Maaleh Adumim said...

Batya, in many cases the side that initiates the request for divorce is *not* the side that is at fault. but you are saying that "if you want to make it extra fair, then any woman who initiates must leave a legally signed document saying she will agree to accept a Gett the minute it is offered." - doesn't that imply "under any conditions"?

in any event, even though it is theoretically possible for a wife to "refuse to accept a get", in practice her "refusal to accept" makes no difference, because the husband can get a civil divorce and civil remarriage (in Cyprus if necessary) and there will be no penalty for him. if the wife would remarry without the husband being "generous" enough to give her a get, she is halachically considered an adulteress and any children that she might have afterwards will be mamzerim. so she is trapped.

personally I think that if the situation were the opposite (penalties for the husband remarrying without a get, rather than for the wife) then the problem would have been solved yesterday.