How important is a religious divorce?

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An interesting news story yesterday, reported that the London Beth Din, the Jewish Rabbinical court which deals with religious aspects of legal matters such as litigation and divorce, has published an article in the Jewish Chronicle banning a Jewish man from entering a synagogue until he grants his ex-wife the "Get", the Jewish divorce. The London Beth Din took this action of the husband failed to grant the Get 13 years after their Decree Absolute was pronounced.

A Jewish couple can obtain a Get upon both parties providing their consent. Upon doing so, the Get is granted after the couple attends two sessions at their local Beth Din. During the second of these sessions, a document is drawn up and, after a number of formalities are satisfied, it is presented to the wife for her to retain as evidence that the religious marriage has been terminated under the rules of Judaism. Upon receiving the Get, the wife is then free to remarry once a period of ninety-two days has elapsed, and provided she does not intend to marry a divorcee.

If, however, the wife (or indeed the husband) does not obtain their Get, either through failing to follow the proscribed procedure or because their other half refuses to give his or her consent, there are serious religious ramifications. Any new relationship will be considered as adulterous, which itself has its own religious consequences. Any children who are born as a result of this relationship, will also be considered illegitimate. The religious requirement for both parties to provide their consent can therefore unfortunately leave parties in a grey area, where they remain married under the rules of their religion, despite following the civil procedure, without both parties necessarily wanting this to be the case.

It is entirely within the discretion of a couple, when deciding to marry under the laws of England and Wales, as to whether they also want to marry under the rules of their respective religion. However, the importance of terminating the religious, as well as the civil, marriage in the event of a relationship breakdown should not be understated. Whilst a couple can follow the civil process of obtaining their Decree Nisi, the interim court Order stating when the marriage will be terminated unless there is good cause for it not to be, and their Decree Absolute, which officially terminates their marriage, the Decree Absolute will not terminate their religious marriage. The religious formalities for doing so must therefore also be borne in mind by the parties and their solicitors alike.

The civil divorce courts do have limited authority to require parties to also follow the religious divorce procedure, although this generally only arises where the terms of the parties' financial settlement provide that the religious divorce is also obtained. They cannot, therefore, provide much help to parties who find themselves in situations similar to the wife, in yesterday's news story. However, the London Beth Din's actions provide an interesting example of a religious court taking action to give credence to the civil procedure. This is a notable development, and it remains to be seen if this will now pave the way for the collaboration of religious institutions with civil courts in assisting couples to obtain an all-encompassing divorce.