Last week, I wrote several blog posts about the plight of so-called “Agunot,” which describes a woman whose husband has refused to grant her a Jewish divorce, via a get – the bill which the husband gives to the wife in order to free her to marry again.
In particular, I highlighted the plight of one agunah, Gital Dodelson, who has been fighting for over four years to receive a get from her husband.
In the midst of the publicity and attention that Gital received after publishing an op-ed piece in the New York Post, a case captioned Katz v. Katz came down from the New York Supreme Court (this is the lowest court of New York in which divorces are granted), telling a similar story.
In Katz, the parties separated in 2008. They entered into a “Separation Agreement” on May 17, 2010 pertaining to support, and joint custody/parenting time of their-then five year old child. In May of 2012, the wife filed for a civil divorce in New York Supreme Court.
On March 25, 2013, the wife filed a motion seeking an award of maintenance (New York’s equivalent of alimony), child support and counsel fees. In response, the husband sought to enforce the parties’ “Separation Agreement” of May 2010 and contended that all of the issues addressed in the wife’s application were already addressed therein.
Now, this is where the case bears striking similarity to Gital’s:
The wife’s counsel further argues that the wife did not waive her request for maintenance because the agreement is not binding. She argues that the plaintiff was a “victim of extortion” in the sum of $70,000.00 in order to obtain a get, a Jewish divorce, from the husband.
She stated that she only conceded to joint custody and to the parenting access schedule detailed in the May 17, 2010 writing because she “was intimidated to give in to the Defendant’s unreasonable demands of custody, visitation and holidays” and that she believed that the husband would not grant her a get [a religious divorce] unless she did so.
Shedding light on the topic at hand, the wife stated that the “court is well aware of the uneven playing field for women in the Jewish orthodox community when negotiations are held to guarantee the giving of the get by the husband to the wife” and that the circumstances surrounding the husband granting her a get “were no different.”
To that end, she stated that she placed $50,000.00 in escrow to “guarantee performance” that the husband would grant her a get and that she has “not received [the escrow] money and believes that it has been given to the Defendant, and that he is using [her escrow] money to support this litigation.” In the end, the Court invalidated the May 2010 “Separation Agreement” on procedural grounds.
Interesting, Gital’s story mirrors that of the wife in Katz v. Katz. Gital obtained her divorce civilly, yet her husband still insists that arbitration to renegotiate the terms of their divorce be a precondition to granting the get. Gital reported that attempts to arbitrate have failed, and that in their last attempt, her husband demanded that she renounce custody of their son and pay him over $300,000 in exchange for her get.
For that reason, it is no surprise that some view this “Agunah Crisis” as a woman’s issue; as one riddled with undertones of extortion and domestic abuse.
Indeed, Rabbi Jeremy Stern executive director of Organization for the Resolution of Agunot has stated of the issue “The refusal to issue a get is never justified and is defined in Jewish law as domestic abuse.” “It’s the last form of control the husband has over his wife,” added Stern. “The mentality is, ‘If I can’t have her, no one can.’ It’s fundamentally about control and spite.”
While not all cases of get abuse are reported, it begs the question as to how many Agunot exist with the same story as the wife in the Katz case or as Gital.
Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or firstname.lastname@example.org.