The chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid has said that recognising get refusal as a form of domestic abuse will act as a deterrent to would-be refusers.
Naomi Dickson backed government proposals to include get refusal in statutory guidance to the Domestic Abuse Act passed earlier this year in her submission to a public consultation that ended shortly before midnight on Tuesday.
“We have worked with many women for whom get refusal has been weaponised by their perpetrator,” she wrote.
“It has become another tool of abuse, used to punish the woman and to hold them to a marriage which is dead, preventing them (and sometimes their children) from moving on with their lives. “
No woman should “experience get refusal, especially where it is weaponised as a tool of abuse, and we therefore welcome the inclusion of get refusal in this guidance”.
She felt strongly that “the inclusion of get refusal will make a considerable difference to the actions of some men who may be subject to prosecution under this law and my expectation is that this will act as a deterrent to would-be get refusers. It has also already served to give hope to some women who have been waiting for a long time for their get. “
Ms Dickson was part of a group that drafted the definition of “spiritual abuse” in the proposed guidelines.
While the guidance is not binding, it would have considerable influence in the legal system.
A few agunot - chained women denied a religious divorce by their spouses - have launched private prosecutions against their former partners under 2015 laws against controlling and coercive behaviour.
But the new guidance would make it easier for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider initiating action itself.
However, the measures have already prompted controversy within the Jewish community with the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din warning that women seeking a get would need rabbinic sanction first. Otherwise, the Federation said, the threat of prosecution could invalidate the get process because it might conflict with the requirements of Jewish law for a get to be given – and accepted – voluntarily.
The Federation has put in its own response to the Home Office consultation although it has not released details. But in a statement, it said it wanted to “ensure that the legislation will be used to help rather than hinder the plight of agunos”.
The Board of Deputies’ family law group is also expected to offer a response.
Ms Dickson said that JWA encouraged women for whom obtaining a get was a priority “to contact the Jewish court (Beth Din) at the earliest opportunity to start the process of the get”.
The proposed guidance on spiritual abuse refers to “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 states that “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.”