Religious Jews, like Catholics, face a unique problem when divorcing: a civil divorce alone does not release them to remarry. The parties require a release by a properly constituted religious body before they are free to enter into another marital relationship. It has been the conventional wisdom in the past that these are matters of no concern to the civil courts; that the doctrine of church-state separation forbids intervention in these areas that are essentially of a religious nature.
A Jewish divorce is called a “get.” It can be applied for during the pendency of a civil divorce or after a civil divorce has been granted. It is a simple document , consisting of twelve lines, that must contain the signatures of two witnesses, and attest to the termination of the marriage. It states that the scribe who wrote the document has been authorized to prepare the document by the husband. It is delivered to the wife by the husband or his agent in front of a Rabbinic Council called a Beth Din. It must be voluntarily delivered by the husband and voluntarily accepted by the wife. Until it is executed and delivered to the woman she is not free to remarry. If she does not receive a “get” and if she were to remarry, her children would be considered illegitimate, mamzerim, whose marriage to other Jews is prohibited. She could not get an Orthodox or Conservative rabbi to perform the ceremony if she did wish to remarry. If she were to remarry somehow, under Jewish law the second marriage would be considered void, and the couple’s sexual relations an act of adultery. If she were to later obtain a “get,” she and her second husband still could not legally marry. Only her husband can authorize a scribe to write the divorce and authorize the two witnesses to sign the document. He, or his agent, must deliver it to the woman. If he refuses, she may find herself an “aguna,” permanently unable to remarry.
Collaborative Law offers an opportunity for a couple to deal privately and respectfully with the subject of a religious divorce. Because Collaborative Law requires that the parties explore and respect each other’s goals, values and interests, it provides the perfect forum for dealing with an issue that would be ignored in the litigation model. Religious Jews facing divorce will find the Collaborative process hospitable to this and other issues that are unique to their faith and lifestyle.
Contribuor: Norma Levine Trusch, Houston attorney and charter member of CLI-Tx.