The Jerusalem Post
Rabbinical court rules to sanction lawyers of parties refusing get
Lawyers who act to prevent the giving of a get and harm divorce proceedings can be slapped with sanctions, the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court ruled in a groundbreaking decision.
Av Beth Din Rabbi Meir Freeman, along with rabbis David Berdugo and Yitzhak Rabinowitz, issued the ruling after a husband who refused to give his wife a get stated that he was not opposed to giving her divorce, but was holding back because his attorney had advised him to do so to benefit in financial negotiations against her.
To conduct a divorce under Jewish law, a husband is required to grant his wife a get. Until the document is handed to the wife, the divorce cannot take effect. An issue that has arisen from this requirement is that some husbands refuse to give a get for a number of reasons, including revenge and a blackmail tool, thereby preventing them from remarrying. Wives whose husbands refuse to issue a get are referred to as agunot (“chained” in Hebrew.)
Rabbinical courts often use sanctions to pressure husbands into issuing the get. In Israel, the sanctions are legally recognized and can include a variety of measures, including bans on exiting the country, holding a driver’s license and managing a bank account. Husbands who refused to issue a divorce can even be imprisoned.
The wife in the recent case began proceedings in the rabbinical court due to her husband’s worsening cognitive condition, which she feared could eventually make it impossible to receive a get if proceedings continued for too long. The wife was represented by attorneys Orit Lahav and Batya Cohen from Mavoi Satum, which works to help women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.
The attorneys of the wife subsequently filed a request to the rabbinical court to place sanctions on the attorney, leading the husband’s attorney to announce that the husband was now ready to issue the divorce. The husband’s attorney demanded, however, that Mavoi Satum cover his legal costs.
The rabbinical court denied the request of the husband’s attorney, ruling the lawsuit was not considered vexatious litigation (legal action meant solely to harass someone) since it is “not inconceivable that there will be cases in which it can be proven that a husband who is required to grant a divorce refuses to grant the divorce only due to misconduct by his attorney.”
The court added that in cases in which lawyers are suspected of holding up divorce proceedings, the court could consider taking action against them. “In these cases, the question will be examined in relation to the degree of legitimacy of the conduct of the [legal] representative,” said the court in its ruling.
Lahav called the ruling “precedent-setting” and a “gladdening decision.”
This “theoretically confirms what we requested: the lawyer can be treated as an aid to the refusal and sanctions can be placed on him for the refusal,” she said, adding that this is an obstacle they have faced in past proceedings.
“We decided to put an end to the phenomenon and submitted an unusual request, and the goal was achieved – the husband granted the divorce. And, moreover, the court recognized the possibility of imposing liability on the lawyers who help those who refuse to divorce,” she said.
“I hope that this decision will reach all those lawyers who use the refusal to divorce as a bargaining tool,” Lahav said, “and that the clear message that emerged today from the court decision will continue to resonate: Refusing to divorce is not a legitimate tool in negotiations and whoever uses it will be held accountable.”