A Jewish woman in Florida facing divorce may encounter a legal challenge if it is important to her to receive a “get” from her husband. A get is a religious document the husband must sign to release the wife from their marriage. Without a get, a rabbi will not normally remarry her if she wants a subsequent marriage performed within the Jewish faith.
According to Chabad.org, without a get, “in the eyes of Jewish law the couple is still 100 percent married,” and there may nowadays be incentive for husbands to sign gets because rabbis will not remarry either party without one.
Civil and religious divorce laws collide
While it seems advantageous to both parties for husbands to sign gets as a matter of course accompanying divorce under state law, problems have arisen when husbands refuse to sign the document, sometimes out of spite or related to marital conflict. While the civil divorce may be final, for a religious wife, the Jewish counterpart to divorce inherent in the get may also be important for her to be able to move on with her life.
The question becomes whether a Florida court can order a husband to sign a get, an issue the Florida Supreme Court has not decided.
In 1966, the District Court of Appeal in the Third District, which sits in Miami, said in Turner v. Turner that a state court cannot force someone to engage in a religious ceremony on constitutional grounds and that ordering a husband to sign a get would constitute a religious ceremony.
Still, in the 1990s, a couple of cases from the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach suggested that some courts may be willing to allow economic pressure to be put on a husband to sign a get.
In Fleischer v. Fleischer, the trial court had ordered the husband to execute a get and let the wife withhold money she owed the husband until he did so. The husband appealed, alleging violation of his First Amendment constitutional rights, but the court affirmed the lower court because the husband had failed to first raise the constitutional issue at trial, so he waived his ability to appeal on that basis.
In 1997, in Bloch v. Bloch, the Fourth District upheld the trial court’s order that if the husband did not obtain the get, the court was reserving jurisdiction to reconsider the property division, alimony, child support and other “economic provisions” of the divorce to make them fairer “in the light of the [former]wife’s changed status.”
In other words, if she was not released from the marriage from a religious standpoint, the unfairness of that status might make it equitable to give her more economic advantage in the civil divorce. The trial court specifically acknowledged that it was not ordering him to get the get and the appeals court found it was a “permissible reservation of jurisdiction.”
Seek experienced legal counsel
Under these uncertain legal circumstances, it may be advantageous to try to get a husband to execute a get before the divorce proceedings. Even if he agrees as part of a negotiated settlement agreement to sign one, if he later refuses, the wife will have to try to enforce the agreement in court with a less-than-certain outcome.
Speak with an experienced Florida family lawyer if a get is important in your divorce to understand your legal options, whether you are the wife or the husband.