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Getting Somewhere? Jewish Divorce, Agunot and Family Violence in Victoria

Getting Somewhere? Jewish Divorce, Agunot and Family Violence in Victoria

In an unprecedented move, a Victorian Magistrate has characterised a man’s refusal to grant his wife a Jewish bill of divorce as a form of family violence.

According to Jewish law a marriage is brought to an end in one of two ways: the first is through the death of either spouse, the second is through the transmission, by husband to wife, of a legal document known as a ‘Get’.

There are a number of technical and legal requirements that must be met for a Jewish divorce to be valid. A central component is that the Get must be given freely by the husband, passing to his wife of his own volition. Similarly, a wife must be deemed to accept the Get of her own free will. Rabbinical Courts are unable terminate a marriage without this authorisation from the husband (although there have been inventive methods used to release women from recalcitrant husbands by annulling the marriage entirely).

Husbands have been shown to withhold giving a Get to their wives for a variety of reasons, including in an attempt:

  • to extract money
  • to receive a greater division of matrimonial property or
  • to procure extra concessions in children’s arrangements.

However, in some instances there seems to be no material motive at all, other than a malicious attempt at assertion of power. This is all the more so in relationships marked by family violence.

In making the determination that a husband’s Get-refusal constituted ’emotional and psychological abuse’ within the meaning of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic), the Magistrate held that the husband’s refusal to finally release his wife from a violent marriage was ‘the ultimate exercise of dominance and control’.

These findings may potentially offer a new and untapped avenue of redress for Jewish women whose husbands refuse to release them from failed marriages.

Talya Faigenbaum represented the wife in this landmark case.

If you are in need of assistance to obtain a Jewish divorce or are a victim of family violence, please contact our office to arrange a confidential appointment with Talya.