Got Your Get Yet?
by Deanna Levine
(Adapted from a recently published article by Sharon Faith and Deanna Levine)
Highlighting the difficulties
In one of several recent well publicised cases, a Jewish couple still had no Get a few years after the civil divorce. Following a very public, high profile campaign carried out on behalf of the woman by the Agunot Campaign, she obtained the Get.
In some cases, women are known to have waited for many years for a Get, which may only be granted by the husband. Similarly, it is not unheard for a man to have waited for many years for a Get, which may only be accepted by the wife. One spouse may be required to pay large sums of money to the other or to agree to inappropriate conditions regarding contact with the children before the husband will grant the Get or the wife will receive it.
What is a Get and who needs one?
A Get is a Jewish Bill of Divorce. For technical reasons beyond the scope of this article a Get is granted by mutual consent of both parties. The husband (or his legal agent) hands the wife the Get document, and she (or her legal agent) in turn has formally to agree to accept the Get.
In order for the Get to be universally recognised within the Jewish world, it is essential that the Get procedures should be effected under the auspices of an orthodox Beth Din (Court of Jewish religious law).
In practice, both parties need an Orthodox Get in order to re-marry within an Orthodox synagogue and to retain the option of remaining fully integrated within the Orthodox Jewish community. A Get is not a religious document as such and does not indicate any acknowledgement of religious belief or practice. It is simply the method by means of which a Jewish marriage is terminated in Jewish law.
Any child a woman conceives while she is Jewishly married to someone who is not the child’s father is deemed a mamzer, even although the mother has a civil divorce, for a civil divorce is not recognised for the purposes of Jewish law. Mamzer status applies only to children born of an adulterous (or incestuous) union and not to children merely born “out of wedlock” (as it used to be called). However, as a wife is deemed to be committing adultery in Jewish law if she has not received a Get (Jewish bill of divorce) from her husband and then commences a new relationship, the status of mamzer will attach to children born from that new relationship.
The mamzer status can never be removed and is passed to all the descendants of the original mamzer. A mamzer cannot marry another Jew or Jewess unless their intended is also a mamzer. It will be appreciated, therefore, that the status of mamzer is a very severe disability and every effort should be made to avoid such a status arising.
The Beth Din will facilitate a Get during or indeed before the civil divorce proceedings are commenced. It is best for the Beth Din to be contacted direct at the earliest opportunity. The Beth Din will open their own file and will help to progress matters according to the circumstances of the particular case.
The actual Get procedure is relatively straightforward and the Beth Din will advise the couple regarding each step. The husband and wife do not have to meet one another at any stage if they prefer not to, or if it is inconvenient to do so. Except in the most exceptional circumstances, it is never prudent for the parties to postpone consideration of Get issues until after the decree nisi has been made absolute.
Two conditions only are required for the Get to be granted and accepted:
- that both husband and wife consent; and
- that husband and wife have ceased to co-habit and are no longer living at the same address.
There are very few cases where there is nothing to negotiate and there will be many opportunities during the negotiations to press for the Get to be obtained. Just as negotiations are made over money, contact with the children, or even the furniture, negotiations should at the same time be made over the Get and, to avoid serious problems arising, the issue of Get should not be sidelined to “later”, or “the end”.
A failure to grasp and deal with the issue of Get at as early a stage as possible can result in unholy misery, not only for the husband or wife, but particularly for any future children of a wife who only has a civil divorce.