Working in a divorce-related field, I constantly encounter gross misconceptions about why people get divorced in our community. “Couples give up too easily these days,” people will grumble. “Young people are afraid to work at it.” “In the good old days, divorce was not even a thought!”
Now, there may indeed be individuals out there who are either emotionally stunted or really love trauma, but the average divorcee in the frum community has a very different story to tell.
If you are reading this and married, I invite you to imagine — for just a moment — what your life would look like tomorrow if you got divorced, G-d forbid. Where would you live? How would your finances work? How would you manage without your children every other weekend? What would happen to the friendships you’ve developed as a couple? What about your sense of self?
Divorce is a seismic shift, the relationship equivalent of a high magnitude earthquake. Every element of the couples’ life needs to be analyzed, discussed, and rebuilt, from the amount they spend on rent to the bonding rituals they share with their children. A new divorcee has to navigate multiple issues at once, from relocation to finances to mental health to legal services, among others. Divorcees in the frum community have the added challenge of needing to work within multiple systems in order to obtain both their civil divorce as well as their get. Dealing with all of these needs at once is overwhelming, to say the least. And yet, there is a powerful barrier to creating the kind of resources needed to help divorcing families: the belief that by doing so, we are “encouraging divorce” in otherwise happy families.
“How can you do this?” the chorus echoes. “If you make divorce so easy and attractive, then everyone will do it! And then the whole tradition of the Jewish family is flushed down the drain!”
There is no question that divorce is a sad ending, one that no individual would choose for him or herself. However, the Torah requires us to work within the real world, not in the realm of fantasy. And in the real world, divorce happens, whether due to domestic violence, substance abuse, or just painful incompatibility.
Knowing as we do that divorce happens, it is incumbent upon us to pave a clear path forward for divorcing couples, where they can find resources and support. We need this not only for the individuals divorcing, but for the sake of their children. Children must live with their parent’s choices, and they are entitled to a life as free from parental conflict as possible. We must remember that by failing to extend a helping hand to divorcing families, we are not making marriage better — we are only making divorce worse. And divorce, with all of its many painful pieces, does not need to be any worse than it already is.
In that vein, ORA, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, has just launched a groundbreaking new initiative: One Step Forward, the Jewish Divorce Resource Line. One Step Forward will serve as a resource to individuals going through separation and divorce to find appropriate referrals for legal, social and mental health services, as well as critical guidance on the beit din process. With One Step Forward, we hope to help people walk through the pain of divorce with as much grace as possible, building new, healthy post-divorce families on the other end.
All of this brings us back to that first question of why people get divorced in the first place, and whether or not they try hard enough to make it work. In my years of experience in various aspects of the Jewish divorce world, I have yet to meet someone filing for divorce because the Shabbos flowers they received were the wrong color. People leave when the trauma of leaving is only outweighed by the hopelessness of staying. To quote poet Warsan Shire, “You have to understand/ no one puts their children in a boat/ unless the water is safer than the land.”
That, in a word, is why people divorce: because the water, choppy and unpredictable as it is, has become safer than the land. Let us not be afraid to pass an oar.