Damages for divorce refusal, for men too
For six years, a woman refused to accept a divorce from her husband, but the looming threat of having to pay damage solved the problem. Add to this the precedent-setting ruling that held that women, like men, must compensate their spouse for get refusal – the phenomenon of get refusal is likely to decline, both with respect to men as well as women
In a recent precedent-setting verdict, Judge HaCohen determined that a man is entitled to compensation from his wife for get (divorce) refusal, irrespective of the proceedings conducted in the rabbinical court. No doubt this is a very important ruling that will have a significant affect on how parties act on the way to getting divorced: No more "foot-dragging" designed to wear down the other side - husband or wife.
At the same time this important decision was rendered, we at the "Center for Women's Justice" enjoyed a similar success. Six years ago Isaac’s (a pseudonym) marriage broke down and he and his wife have lived separately ever since. But Isaac’s wife refused to accept a get, and since the edict of Rabbenu Gershom it is not possible to divorce a woman against her will.
Though the parties are litigating all their marital property issues in the civil court -- the husband was willing to accept the disposition of the court in all those matters - the woman tried to use her leverage to extract financial requirements beyond what was coming to her by law. The couple is religious and the wife knew that the husband could not establish a relationship with another woman until he finished this chapter in his life.
The Center Women's Justice sued the woman for hundreds of thousands of shekels in compensation for the damage that she caused him, but even before the first hearing in court, the woman agreed to accept the divorce and the matter was settled. "I'm waiting for more than six years for this moment," said Isaac,
"Thanks to my tort claim I received the divorce. No one is happier than I am."
'Don't play around with the divorce'
The landmark ruling of Judge Menachem Hacohen is bound to help future spouses - men or women - who have difficulty getting a divorce. In his ruling, Hacohen described the thought processes that he went through since 2004, when he first ruled that a get recalcitrant must pay damages: "Then I thought that a cause of action for damages for get refusal arose only in circumstances where the rabbinic court had specifically ordered a spouse to grant a get. But the more I thought about it, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a required pre-condition. A family court dealing with this type of claim does not have to limit itself to the date that the rabbinic court first orders a husband to grant a divorce."
In other words: compensation for get refusal, whether paid to a man or woman, is determined in a manner that is completely severed from a divorce ruling of the rabbinic court. This approach, already adopted in a ruling issued by Judge Greenberger, renders superfluous any need for an order of the rabbinic court.
The current ruling is precedent-setting because it held that now even a woman who is unwilling to accept a get must pay a price for infringing on her husband's freedom to choose to separate from her and to release himself from the bonds of holy marriage. It is clear that the infringement on a man’s freedom is less intrusive than any infringement on a woman’s freedom, but this is something that the judge took into account when he set the amount of compensation.
Divorce is not a game. So no more blood-soaked battles in the Rabbinic Court. No more extraordinary hard work. No more money paid to private investigators to prove adultery. It’s enough that a person can convince the court that she (or he) is determined to divorce, that she let her spouse know in no uncertain terms that this is her desire, and that refusing a divorce causes suffering. From a reasonable time here and onward, regardless of proceedings in the rabbinic court, a partner can be held liable if he or she refuses to give/get a divorce.
Previously lawyers would advise their clients to adopt foot-dragging methods, even if they understood that the marriage had come to an end. Since these tort claims, we expect that lawyers will advise their clients not to play around with the divorce. Divorce is not a game - and it should not be cynically exploited to obtain advantages that are not otherwise due. If a party asks for a divorce – just be done with it, arrange for the get, and, at the same time, leave it to the court to divide up your marital property if you can’t do it by yourselves.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works at the Center for Women's Justice, Tel: 972-2-5664390.