Leah was still chained to her ex-husband: two years after the civil court granted her a divorce, her ex-husband Dovid, a devote orthodox Jew, still refused to give her a religious divorce called a “get.” Without the religious divorce, Leah would not be able to remarry – or even date – in her community. Her life was on hold, tied to her ex- at his whim. And she is not alone.
The number of Jewish women being denied a religious divorce is on the rise. The results are devastating: younger women with children and little money are forced to forgo financial payments or even custody in exchange for a get. Out of desperation, people start taking matters into their own hands. Recently several rabbis were arrested in a plot to beat reluctant husbands into giving gets. This so-called “Get Crisis,” is the product of a myriad of factors, which may be avoided by using divorce mediation.
Here are five ways that divorce mediation can help resolve the get crisis:
- Avoid Court Drama. Taking an Orthodox Jewish man to divorce court may only fuel the feeling that he is being wronged, after all, his religion and community have tasked him as the sole determinate in giving a divorce. Damaged pride and a sense of shame can turn into an angry hurt making him more reluctant to give the get. Instead, divorce mediation avoids the courtroom drama. Mediation is aimed at reaching a low-conflict agreement and fostering a safe space for the couple to work out their issues.
- Opt for Creative Solutions. Most people don’t realize that court is limiting: decisions on dividing property and raising your children are made by strangers. Laws are set without your specific case in mind, and definitely without considering your religion. Mediation allows you a world of creative options to craft solutions to the details of your life. The more options available, the more likely the couple can find an agreement that works for them, hopefully lessening the urge to withhold a get.
- Level the Playing Field. Many times the refusal to give a get is used as a means of leverage in a custody or financial dispute. However, more often than not, the husband withholds the get as a simple form of control and power over his wife. This is a form of abuse. Because the get creates an automatic power imbalance, mediation can help to rectify the imbalance by creating a safe space for both voices to be heard and giving the couple a forum where they are encouraged to hear one another.
- Avoid Public Shame. In Leah’s case, she turned to the Jewish rabbinical courts, which use the power of communal shaming to pressure stubborn husbands. That process alerts the whole community to the problem: contacting local synagogues, local schools, and embarrassingly enough, for Leah, she even sent out letters to everyone invited to her wedding begging them to pressure Dovid and his family. But public shaming can backfire: publicly backing down from his position became even less of an option for Dovid. To give a get would be even more of a blow to his male pride because of the publicity.
- Decrease Double Trouble. Asking for a divorce is hard; asking for a divorce and a get makes a tough situation even more difficult. The media attention to the get crisis and the numerous women who have been waiting for months, years and even decades, highlight the fact that women in the Jewish community need more resources to find a solution to this crisis. Mediation offers an alternative setting from the high-tension court system and rabbinical courts. Divorce mediation, which is still emerging in main stream culture, may help those couples in secular communities find a better way to resolve their divorce.
What are the other ways that mediation can help the Get Crisis? Discuss your ideas or experiences in the comments.
This blog was co-authored by Rachel Goldenberg, an associate attorney at the Queens-based divorce firm Richardson Legal PLLC. Ms. Goldenberg has presented “Happily Ever After…or Not: The ‘Get’ As a Form of Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Home and How Mediation Could Be The Answer.” She previously worked in Hofstra’s Mediation Clinic, and also handled court-mandated mediation in Nassau Family Court.