You may have watched ‘Unorthodox‘ or ‘Shtisel‘ on Netflix – both binge-worthy shows about the ultra-orthodox jewish community. (And if you haven’t, then you should!) But for most people, their knowledge of the lives of orthodox Jews doesn’t go much beyond recognizing the men in the street by their little side curls (called payos), and the fact that their lives, like many other insular communities, are governed by incredibly strict rules.
So while it may not surprise you to hear that an orthodox Jewish husband can deny his wife a divorce, you may be startled to discover that they are willing to consider getting a prenuptial agreement. And you may be wondering why. After all, isn’t a prenup something you do in the event of a divorce?
What happens if an orthodox Jewish wife wants a divorce?
Among orthodox Jews, only a husband can ‘grant’ permission for a divorce. So some women are stuck in unhappy, and sometimes even abusive, relationships if their husband doesn’t agree to end the marriage. But why? And what options do they have if they want to end their marriages? In traditional Judaism, when a husband decides to grant permission for a divorce, he dictates a special letter (called a “get”) to a trained scribe, which gives his wife permission to end their marriage.
If the husband refuses, however, the wife is referred to as an “agunah”, which means she is a “chained wife”. But divorce is legal here in the US, right? So what’s stopping a Jewish wife, even an ultra-orthodox one, from getting what she is legally entitled to? The answer to that is complex, but you need to understand that if an orthodox woman seeks a divorce in court without a ‘get’ from her husband, she will be shunned by her entire community. For most, the loss of relationships with everyone they know and love is simply too much to bear.
But why consider a prenup if divorce isn’t an option?
As we pointed out, divorce might be an option – but only if the husband decides to allow it. However, the issue of the ‘get’ has been causing a great deal of difficulty for many husbands who don’t readily give it. In Israel men can be jailed for refusing their wives a ‘get’. Here in the US, there have been cases of violence against husbands who refuse. So rabbis are looking for more peaceable ways to solve the dilemma. And one of those solutions is the Beth Din of America.
The Beth Din of America is nothing more than a religious prenuptial agreement, governed by Jewish law instead of US law. (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.) But the Beth Din solves the issue by requiring that if a couple gets divorced, they agree to allow the divorce to be governed by a Jewish court. And additionally, the husband agrees to financially support his wife, should they separate, until he grants her a ‘get’.
Are there other divorce options available to othodox Jewish women?
Other options available to orthodox Jewish wives include annulment, which essentially means that the marriage would be viewed as having never happened. This would be an option in cases where a husband had failed to disclose certain facts about himself that would make him an ‘undesirable match’ in the orthodox community – like a drinking problem, a gambling problem, homosexuality, or a tendency towards abuse. But what about regular divorce?
An orthodox Jewish woman has the right, if she is willing to suffer the consequences within her community, to seek out a legal divorce. Just like anyone else in the US, she has the right to end her marriage if she wants to. And so do you. Here at The Kronzek Firm, our skilled family law attorneys specialize in every aspect of divorce, from alimony and child support, to custody issues and parenting time schedules. We even handle prenups. Call 866 766 5245 today to discuss your diovrce with someone who can help.