Victory in Battle against Divorce Refusal

13 February 2013 By Sumi Fleming

Victory in Battle against Divorce Refusal

Following a petition led by NIF grantee Mavoi Satum, Israel's Supreme Court has intervened in a case that has massive implications for the problem of Get (Jewish divorce) refusal.

In December 2002, Sara (name has been changed to defend her privacy) caught her husband cheating on her with a man and sued for divorce. In Israel, there is no civil marriage or divorce. According to Jewish, and thus Israeli, law a husband alone has the power to grant a divorce. A woman who does not receive a religious divorce from her husband cannot legally remarry. Sara's husband, in this case, refused to grant her a Get. After four years, the local rabbinical court issued an "obligation to divorce" ruling against her husband, who subsequently toughened his conditions for granting the divorce.

victory-battle-against-divorce-refusalIn 2010 Sara filed a civil damages claim in family court. Last October – more than 10 years following the original suit - the rabbinical court sentenced the man to six months in jail to try and pressure him into giving his wife a divorce. However, in December, the Supreme Rabbinical Court ruled that he would only be released from jail if Sara withdrew her claim for civil damages.

Represented by Mavoi Satum, who have represented her for eight years now, Sara petitioned the Supreme Court, arguing that the rabbinical court was trying to "deny the civil courts in general, and the family courts in particular, their clear authority to hear and give remedy in family damage claims…while undermining the petitioner's basic rights and preferring a situation in which…the recalcitrant husband...benefits."

"It's a massive achievement that the Supreme Court has got involved in this issue," said Advocate Batya Kahana-Dror, Mavoi Satum's Executive Director. "Normally it doesn't intervene in cases like this. But the Supreme Rabbinical Court decision was immoral. It's extortion. Suing for damages is a basic right. This isn't just about women's rights – it's about human rights. It's also important from the perspective of religion and state. The religious monopoly on divorce hurts individual rights. We need to have civil divorce as well."

Because of this unprecedented Supreme Court intervention, which was also backed by NIF grantees Kol Haisha and Kolech, the issue could eventually reach the halls of the Knesset, which may be forced to reconsider the status quo currently governing divorce in Israel. In the meantime, Mavoi Satum continues its struggle for a comprehensive solution to the problem of Get refusal and to ensure that all women have their rights guaranteed when going through a divorce.