Jewish Divorce: Getting a Get

As the Jewish community celebrates Hanukah, I am reminded of some of the characteristics of divorce unique to Jewish culture.
In some tight-knit Orthodox Jewish communities, in addition to the civil divorce obtained in the local court, a Jewish divorcing couple may also, depending upon how strictly they observe Judaism, need to obtain a “get” — the crucial document in Jewish law which a husband must sign before a divorce is finalized in the eyes of God.
Without it, the wife, known as an “agunah”, is not allowed to marry again. If she has children, they are considered bastards. The man, however, can move on without a get, openly dating other women. The wife is trapped in “marital limbo.”
The contentious issue received public attention last month after two rabbis in Brooklyn were arrested and accused of charging vulnerable agunot up to $60,000 each to kidnap and torture husbands who refused to sign the paperwork. In some cases, electric cattle prods allegedly were used on the recalcitrant men’s genitals.
If the couple settles the divorce in the civil court before obtaining the get, it may be wise to negotiate provisions in the marital settlement agreement that provide the husband will take all steps necessary to obtain the get and to tender proof of the get to the wife upon a specific date. The husband generally does not have any right to withhold the get and doing so may be considered a form of abuse.

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