Two Australian groups have submitted information about religious Jewish divorce issues to a government committee, which includes divorce refusal as a means of control and abuse over a woman trying to escape a violent marriage.
The National Council of Jewish Women of Australia and the Melbourne-based Unchain My Heart Incorporated have lodged a joint submission on divorce refusal (the refusal to issue a ‘get’) with the Australian Law Reform Commission.
The Australian Law Reform Commission is conducting the first comprehensive review into the family law system since the Family Law Act in 1976 was legislated with a view to reforming the family law system. Its goal was to ensure that the system meets the contemporary needs of families and effectively addresses family violence and child abuse.
The submission, “Get Refusal, Jewish Divorce and Family Law,” defines the divorce refusal as a tool to control, intimidate and extract concessions from women, with grave consequences if they wish to remarry, because children born to a formerly married woman who has not received a get and is in a new relationship will suffer compromised social status within Judaism, which will endure for 10 generations.
“Get refusal is a form of family violence and a violation of human rights, and should be dealt with accordingly,” said Unchain My Heart Chair Susie Ivany. “We hope that progress will be made as a result of the submission to make it easier for Jewish women to obtain a get and move on with their lives within their religion,” NCJWA Acting National Co-Presidents Sylvia Deutsch and Victoria Nadel told JTA.
The joint submission makes a number of recommendations, among them an order that the civil Decree Nisi, a court order that allows a divorce to occur, shall not become absolute until the court has been satisfied that both parties have taken all steps reasonably within their power to ensure that all barriers to a Jewish re-marriage have been removed. The submission supports the Australian government’s position that “family violence is a fundamental violation of human rights and is unacceptable in any form, in any community and in any culture.”
Outside Israel, Jewish couples can be civilly divorced, but if they do not also obtain a get, they are considered still married in Orthodox law.
The get process, overseen by a tribunal of all-male rabbis, strictly requires that a husband must willingly give his wife the get, which she must willingly accept. Most of the time this happens quickly and amicably.
But in what experts say is a growing number of cases, Jewish men in Australia are abusing their power in the divorce process to force women into giving up money, property and child custody.
An ABC News investigation — part of an ongoing series exploring the complex links between religion and domestic violence — has found rising concerns that men are exploiting their advantage in the Jewish divorce process to control and traumatise women who have endured sometimes decades of violence and abuse.
Lawyers and advocates are warning the crisis has bled into the secular legal system, where the get is being used as a weapon in civil divorce negotiations to blackmail women into giving up property and child custody.
In some cases, the get is also being used in the magistrates’ court, with men pressuring women to drop applications for family violence intervention orders in exchange for divorce.
This issue was brought to government attention decades ago, with the Family Law Council recommending in 2001 that legislative reforms be made swiftly to allow courts to withhold civil divorce until religious divorce had been granted, effectively blocking divorce refusal.
But the proposal was rejected outright by then attorney-general Philip Ruddock, who suggested it would threaten Australia’s no-fault divorce system and that the courts should not be involved in “religious issues”.
In the United States and Canada, a 2011 study by the research firm Mellman Group found 462 cases of divorce refusal between 2005 and 2010.
And a 2013 study by the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan University found a third of women seeking divorce in Israel had experienced threats to withhold or refusal of a get.
Even just the prospect of a get being withheld can be extremely stressful for women who are separating, particularly those escaping domestic violence, says Marilyn Kraner, manager of Individual and Family Services at Jewish Care Victoria.
“The threat of divorce refusal can be as immobilising and destabilising for women and children as actually being assaulted,” Ms Kraner said.
“You cannot underestimate the coping capacity women need to have when their day is filled with unknowns, filled with threats … and so they live in this perpetual heightened alertness, just in case.”
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