Landmark guidance on get refusal published

New rules for the first time would allow denial of a Jewish divorce to be defined as form of domestic abuse


The government has published draft legal guidance which for the first time defines withholding a get – a Jewish divorce bill – as a form of domestic abuse, giving victims greater power to take their former partner to court. 

But the new measure has ignited controversy following a warning from the Federation Beth Din that going to court without rabbinic sanction could prove counterproductive by making a get almost impossible under Jewish law. 

The guidance, issued on Tuesday, following the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act earlier this spring, is now open to public consultation till mid-September. 

Setting out examples of “spiritual abuse”, it includes “instances whereby a recalcitrant husband may refuse to give his wife a Jewish bill of divorce (or a wife may unreasonably refuse to accept a Jewish bill of divorce)”. 

It says, “the ability to refuse to give a get provides abusive husbands with power and control and will be used often to exert leverage in relation to other aspects of the divorce.” 

A woman denied a get can “often be severely restricted in her social and personal life. It affects her ability to re-marry and directly affects the status of any children she may have in the future”. 

The guidance gives two examples of Jewish women under such duress. In one, “Deborah” left her husband less than a year after their marriage, in which he seemed to “take pleasure in controlling her and making her life miserable”. 

Although she obtained a secular divorce, the courts “failed in their efforts to encourage her husband to give Deborah her get. She was informed that he would give the get only if she agreed to leave the UK and promise never to return”. 

In the second example, “Hannah” obtained a get more than 20 years after her civil divorce and following a campaign by her community. 

“She said that she would never be able to get back those long years when she was trapped by her abusive ex-husband in a marriage which had long ended,” the guidance states. 

The legislation has been hailed as a major step forward by campaigners on behalf of agunot, women chained to a dead marriage because they have been denied a get. 

But the Federation warned that launching a prosecution against a get refuser without rabbinic approval could render a subsequent get invalid in Jewish law, because it was coerced rather than given or received voluntarily. 

In a recent podcast, the head of the Federation Beth Din Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman said he had talked to the dayanim of other rabbinic courts before the warning was issued. 

The Federation acknowledges that there are instances where Jewish law mandates that a get must be given - or received – and pressure exerted to enforce the ruling. 

Following its intervention, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has convened talks between rabbis, parliamentarians and campaigners in an effort to reach agreement on how to use the law to help victims. 

Already, over the past year and a half, a few women have obtained a get after initiating or threatening legal action against their former husbands – and two more cases are currently before the courts. 

But these have been private prosecutions, using a 2015 law against controlling and coercive behaviour. 

The new law against domestic abuse would make it easier for a criminal case to be brought against a get refuser by the Crown Prosecution Service. 

Under civil law, judges also have the power to delay a civil divorce if they believe that one partner is trying to prevent the other from remarrying by withholding a religious divorce.


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