Jewish women in New Jersey are a step closer to having legal support from secular courts in obtaining a “get” from husbands refusing to give them one. On March 30, 2023, the New Jersey Assembly unanimously passed A1475, a bill that proposes adding language to a state domestic violence statute that suggests Get refusal may be an illegal form of coercive religious control. Although get refusal is not explicitly named, legal experts maintain that should this bill become law, it may give women whose husbands refuse to give a get an actionable claim against these men in secular court.
What is a Get?
A get is a Jewish religious divorce document. The 12-line handwritten document allows a couple to terminate their marriage religiously, dissolving all their religious marital obligations towards one another and enabling them to remarry. Under Jewish law, the husband must present the get to his wife for the rabbinic divorce to be effectuated, even if the secular civil divorce is complete. If the husband refuses to give the get to his wife, she is still considered married and cannot remarry under Jewish law.
Unfortunately, husbands sometimes refuse to present their wives with the get. When this occurs, the woman is called agunah, meaning "chained" or "anchored" in Hebrew. She is separated from her husband but unable to remarry under Jewish law because she has not been religiously divorced. Any new romantic relationship she enters into without the get means she is committing the sin of adultery in the eyes of the religious Jewish community, and any children born are considered illegitimate. (Men who do not receive a get are generally not considered adulterers if they remarry, as polygamy is legal under certain Jewish ordinances.)
A husband refusing a get can make life difficult for a woman chained to a dead marriage. He may be able to pressure or extort her, make her a social outcast in her religious community, or force her to lead a life without a romantic partner.
How Might New Jersey Bill A1475 Help Women Refused a Get?
Secular law typically has no impact on religious divorce law. Indeed, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids laws to interfere with the free practice of religion. However, freedom of religion is not absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that if a religious practice violates certain fundamental health, safety, or moral standards, that practice may be legally prohibited by federal or state governments. Polygamy, for example, is banned in all fifty states, although some religious denominations have considered it a vital part of their religious practice.
The proposed language of Bill A1475 suggests that get refusal may be a practice not protected by the First Amendment because it may violate a fundamental right to be free of religious coercion. If the bill passes into law, it might give rise to an actionable claim by an agunah. A woman may be able to seek a restraining order against the husband refusing to provide a get on the grounds that his refusal displays a “pattern of coercive control” that “unreasonably interferes with, threatens, or exploits her liberty, freedom… or human rights.”
Only time will tell whether this bill will become state law and successfully help agunot.
Consult a Knowledgeable New Jersey Family Lawyer
If you are seeking a divorce that may prove to be complicated, you need top-notch legal representation. Reach out to New Jersey Family Law Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team. We have helped many people reach the best possible outcome in complex family law situations. We want to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.