Women obtains get in landmark case
A landmark case has seen an unnamed women obtain a get and the refusal of her husband to give one freely being recognised as coercive control by the courts.
What is a get?
A get is a writ of Jewish divorce which terminates a Jewish marriage and enables the former husband and wife to remarry freely under Jewish law. It is a 12-line document, written by hand by a professionally trained scribe and signed by two witnesses.
Under Jewish law, a get is presented by a husband to his wife. When she acquires the document, both of them are released from all marital obligations. They must still fulfil the obligations and restrictions stemming from divorce under Jewish or secular law, such as support payments, and custody arrangements.
For most Jews, marriage begins with a Jewish ceremony uniting a man and a woman. The Get ends, or terminates that union. It is a formal, clear-cut, legal process which requires only the consent of both parties. A get is advisable anytime the couple was married, even if there was no Jewish ceremony.
A woman who was considered married under Jewish law, but does not receive a get, is considered by Jewish law to be still married to her first husband, notwithstanding a civil divorce.
The get makes no reference to responsibility or fault. It has no bearing or effect on any aspect of the civil settlement and does not does not subject either party to personal questions. As long as there is mutual consent, there is no need to state detailed grounds for divorce, although an opportunity to briefly state such grounds may be offered.
In the recent case, lawyers for the woman, who asked not to be named, has obtained a get after launching a private prosecution against her husband. The unnamed women brought the prosecution under coercive or controlling behaviour laws which were established as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and came into force on 29 December 2015.
It is believed to be the first time the criminal justice system in the UK has been used on behalf of an agunah – a “chained” woman left unable to remarry according to Jewish law because her husband denies her a religious divorce.
Anthony Metzer QC told the Court “The defendant was well aware that by refusing to provide a get, the victim would be isolated, prevented from forming a future relationship or having children, and unable to lead an Orthodox Jewish life in the community of her choice.”
A person bringing a private prosecution has traditionally needed to be prepared to foot the bill for their legal costs. But in a short hearing, the judge hearing the case accepted an application for the state to fund the prosecution costs.
This could have important ramifications for other orthodox Jewish women considering bringing legal action against their former spouses as well as being relevant to communities outside the Orthodox Jewish community.
Under family law, a court already has the power to hold up a civil divorce if there is an obstacle to religious re-marriage. But the use of the criminal courts now provides another weapon in the armoury.
If you would like to receive advice around any religious marriage on relationship breakdown, please contact a member of our specialist family law team.