The government has published new statutory guidance which for the first time recognises get refusal as a form of domestic abuse.
The guidelines, issued in support of the Domestic Abuse Act passed last year, will make it easier to launch prosecutions against get deniers for coercive control.
Victims can also apply to the courts for a “domestic abuse order” to curb unreasonable behaviour by their former partner.
Rabbinical authorities had lobbied the government, following the publication of draft guidance last year, to include advice that a beth din should be consulted before any criminal action is considered.
But while the new guidelines say that women are “able to consult” a beth din, the wording stops short of recommending that they do.
Batei din have warned that if a man were to give a get to avoid punishment in the criminal court, this could invalidate a get, as it could be considered to have been given under duress, and not freely as required by Jewish law. Hence they want people to consult a beth din prior to any legal action in the secular system.
According to the guidance published by the Home Office, “The ability to refuse to give a get has been recognised as a specific issue providing abusive husbands with power and control and will sometimes be used to exert leverage in relation to other aspects of the divorce.”
It states: “The refusal will have a significant impact on the wife’s wider living conditions: she will often be severely restricted in her social and personal life.”
But it also now includes a reference to a beth din, going on to state that get refusal “affects her ability to re-marry and directly affects the status of any children she may have in the future.
"In such cases, women are able to consult at the earliest opportunity their beth din on the matter of issuing the get. Batei Din, as religious court authorities, are able to advise couples on the position in Jewish law for dissolution of the religious marriage.”
The Federation of Synagogues Beth Din had looked for stronger wording to say that a beth din “should be engaged” by a Jewish couple, along with a warning that a get could be invalidated “if a criminal prosecution is initiated in order to compel the husband to give a get, before a beth din is consulted”.
The Board of Deputies’ family law group had also sought to include a similar caution, as did the London Beth Din, which had warned: “Punitive measures or the threat thereof against one party, would in all likelihood invalidate a get”.
Baroness Altmann, one of the peers who pushed for get refusal to be recognised as abuse, said she was "delighted that Parliament has shown its support for Jewish women who are suffering abuse because of rules specific to their religious beliefs.
"The aim is to help women, already going through the painful experience of divorce, avoid the further anguish caused by get refusal, so they can proceed with their lives freely in accordance with their religious beliefs.
"I do hope the religious leadership will continue to work hard to improve the way these victims are treated and introduce new procedures that offer greater support, while also clearly indicating to their communities that refusing to grant a get is unacceptable, abusive behaviour."
She expressed gratitude to "all the ministers, officials and cross-party parliamentary colleagues who work so hard to ensure this matter was clarified under the new statutory guidance for the Domestic Abuse Act".
Naomi Dickson, chief executive of Jewish Women's Aid, said the guidance was "key to helping Jewish women to feel acknowledged and more confident to reach out for support if they are being abused through get refusal or in other culturally specific ways.
"I hope that it will act as a deterrent to potential abusers and encourage institutions, including mainstream domestic abuse agencies and the Jewish courts, to become literate in how to support women well in this area.”
Footnotes to the 160-page guidelines explain that a get must be given and received with the consent of both partners but if a husband refuses a get, a woman is an agunah, a chained woman, and cannot remarry in an Orthodox ceremony.