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Divorce in Orthodox Jewish Communities: What to do When Your Faith Denies You a Divorce.

A man in traditional Judaic clothing, sitting in a public park, reading the Torah.
Traditional Judaism frowns on divorce in most cases, so getting a divorce can be very hard, especially if you’re a woman and need the permission of your husband.

Divorce might be legal, and even commonplace, in the United States today, but that doesn’t mean it’s accepted in every community. Some communities – primarily religious ones – have very strict rules for their practitioners, and oftentimes, those rules forbid (or strongly discourage) getting divorced. This is true in certain Catholic communities, and also among the Amish, Orthodox Jews, Conservative Christians and Muslims, and even Hindus.

But what can you do when you desperately want to get out of your marriage and your faith doesn’t allow it? You might legally be allowed to end the relationship, but the rules and social stigma in your community can last a lifetime. That certainly seems to be the case for the Jews in the Orthodox church, where only a husband can ‘grant’ permission for a divorce, and so women are stuck if their husband doesn’t agree to end the relationship.

How does an Orthodox Jewish woman get her husband to relent?

In traditional Judaism, only a husband can grant the divorce, in which case he dictates a special letter – called a “get” – to a trained scribe, giving her permission to end their marriage. If the husband refuses, the wife is referred to as an agunah, meaning “chained wife”. But even chained wives are legally allowed to seek a divorce in the United States. It’s just their religious communities that forbid it. So what can they do to bridge the gap?

Under the law in the United States, the courts cannot interfere in religious divorces. So it isn’t legal to force an Orthodox Jewish husband to provide his wife with a get by threatening him with jail or fines. And even if the husband does relent and grants his wife the “get”, she is forbidden to remarry within the faith. So the options aren’t great. But what exactly are they exactly?

What options are available for Orthodox Jewish women today?

If a woman can’t get her husband to provide his blessing for the divorce, it isn’t a complete dead end. Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, an eminent Orthodox rabbi, scholar, and authority on Jewish religious law says annulment is an option. If a marriage began under false pretenses, he says, like a husband’s failure to disclose a gambling problem, violent tendencies, or homosexuality, it can be considered to never have taken place. This frees a woman to leave her husband and even be remarried within the faith.

Another option is the recently introduced religious prenuptial agreement. Although there are many versions of this, a commonly used one is the Beth Din of America. Signing this document before they get married means the couple agrees to have the Jewish religious court oversee aspects of the divorce (to keep it kosher, as it were) and requires that a husband pay his “chained wife” $150 a day until he grants the “get”, providing incentive for husbands to free unhappy wives, and promising to support them financially until they’re released.

Family law and divorces are never as straightforward as they seem

As experienced family lawyers from several different religious backgrounds, we understand how complex a divorce can be when there are religious considerations in the mix. That’s why, if you live in Michigan and you’re considering a divorce but are bound by certain religious regulations, call The Kronzek Firm in mid-Michigan. We can help you navigate the complexities of divorce while still respecting your faith, and your religious commitment.

Our skilled and experienced family law attorneys will ensure that your rights are protected, your best interests are represented, but that it’s all done in a way that is respectful to your religious commitments. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including weekends and holidays. Call us at 866 766 5245 today, and get the right help.

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