The Jewish religion has commonly accepted divorce as a fact of life, even if it is a very unfortunate one. The Jewish community generally maintains that Shalom Bayit, domestic peace and harmony, is the most desirable state, and it’s better for a couple to divorce than to remain together in a state of bitterness and strife.

It’s no secret that divorce matters have an emotional intensity unlike other legal practice areas. In traditional and conservative marriages, the decision to divorce is made more complicated by stigma and family reputation, an uneven balance of power, and the necessity of obtaining a get, which bestows considerable leverage and control to the husband to agree to the religious divorce.

Not all family law attorneys understand the commandment for the get, and how it fits in with New York State divorce law. It’s important to understand the clients’ heritage and to respect the cultural and religious context of their lives and their disputes. The job of the mediator or lawyer is to help clients make informed rational decisions to positively shape their future.

Under New York law, anyone married more than six months can file for a No Fault divorce. Once a divorce is finalized, the Supreme Court issues a divorce decree, then either party is free to move on with their lives in every respect, including remarriage. But under Jewish religious law, a civil decree is not enough for a woman to remarry. With only a civil decree, the community looks upon the woman as still married and not released from her husband, despite what New York State says.

The get is simply a writ of religious divorce, and required whenever a Jewish man and woman, who have lived together as husband and wife, wish to dissolve their marriage. Even if it was only a civil marriage, a get is still required. The get is not an adversarial proceeding. The document makes no references to responsibility, blame, fault, or financial or custody details of settlement.

For a small minority of very enlightened couples, the get is done right at the beginning of the separation process, or agreed to as set forth in a prenuptial agreement. But for most couples, the scheduling of the get is a critical part of the divorce negotiation and bargaining that goes on with regard to custody of the children, support, division of assets, as any other divorce. 

In the civil divorce courts, there are enforcement remedies available to help obtain the get, along with a fair financial and custody settlement. Community leaders in the United States and Israel are increasingly more supportive of victims of get abuse and get refusal. These realities are linked with the issue of domestic violence. Victims in religious and traditional households stay in abusive situations and unhealthy marriages far longer than their more secular counterparts. Studies clearly show that get refusal is often linked to domestic abuse.

By Jacqueline Harounian, Esq.
Partner, Wisselman,
Harounian & Associates
A Matrimonial & Family Law Firm