There are 3 challenges Jewish women face with divorce and they can be completely overwhelming. Legal, emotional and practical hurdles have to be overcome. When a marriage ends whether it was his idea or hers, it’s a very sad, stressful time. The moment you know divorce is in your future you’ve got a lot of decisions to make. And that’s a huge challenge when you’re just trying to process your emotions.
“I wanted to end my marriage years ago but couldn’t find a reason to justify leaving,” says Devorah*. “I finally got the courage to seek counseling and spent almost a year understanding myself and the dynamic of our relationship. I knew leaving my husband was the best thing for me to do.” Devorah said she felt a tremendous sense of relief once she made the decision to tell him she wanted a divorce. “Then,” she says, “All I felt was panic.”
Let’s look at some of the hurdles most women have to deal with. And some helpful resources.
A Word About Chained Women – Agunot
Divorce from a legal perspective is always arduous. But with a Jewish marriage, and in Israel in particular, it can be down right dreadful.
According to Jewish law the only way for a couple to get divorced is for the husband to give his wife the Get – the Jewish divorce document. The Rabbinic court is the sole authority in Israel that is able to issue that Get and thereby legally end the marriage. So even if all of the other issues of your divorce are litigated (or much better – a comprehensive divorce agreement is affirmed) in the Family Court, you still will not be divorced until you and your spouse have gone through the Get ceremony in the Rabbinic court.
A Jewish woman who wants a divorce from a Jewish man is always worried that he may not give it. Even if he wants to divorce her, he might withhold a Get. These husbands often hold out in order to extort money or assets from their wives in exchange for the document. And the Rabbinic courts are known to not only allow it but in many cases encourage such behavior.
If a woman is unlucky enough to be married to someone who refuses to give her a Get she becomes an ‘Aguna‘ or “chained woman”. She is then unable to get remarried. If she enters a new relationship, she is stigmatized as an adulteress. If children are born from this relationship they are classified as illicit offspring or ‘mamzerim’. There are over 400 known cases of Get refusal per year in Israel with actual cases estimated to be far greater. While there are many advocate groups fighting to unchain these women it remains a huge problem.
The Legal Challenges
In my family law practice, while I see all 3 challenges Jewish women face with divorce, it’s my responsibility to handle the legal side. This alone has the potential to cause considerable stress.
- Will there be a problem with the Get?
- How can one gather all the relevant documents and deal with all the papers that are to be filled out?
- One must determine what their assets are and what they’re worth, which means hunting down details.
- Hiring a divorce attorney is more often than not the first time a woman has come in contact with a lawyer.
- And let’s not forget the complicated legal system in Israel with two courts to navigate. Just the mechanics alone can be quite overwhelming.
The best way to handle the legal challenges is to gather as much information as possible before you make any decisions. I’ve written a divorce guide especially for women which you can download for free. There are a number of other free books and reports available – including a guide for how to choose a lawyer – which all help demystify the divorce process in Israel.
The Emotional Challenges
For insights into the emotional side of divorce for a woman, I consulted an expert. Beverly Chimes, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and certified life coach who lives in Israel and has clients all over the world.
Beverly told me that when a client who is divorcing first comes to her, they are in panic and crisis mode. Their emotions are like a pot of water on a high flame vigorously boiling and splashing over.
“I listen with compassion and patience as they let off the steam that has been building up,” she explains. “They definitely need to process their emotions but when divorce is in the picture there are more immediate challenges that have to be dealt with as well.” Beverly helps them turn down the flame and get into the driver’s seat so they can begin addressing those immediate challenges.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow became famous for his “Hierarchy of Needs” back in 1943. It describes his “theory of motivation,” and has become a tool utilized by professionals in many healthcare areas. The idea is that people are not able to address their emotional needs unless their basic physical needs are taken care of. One has to have a roof over her head and food in her belly in order to deal with what’s in her heart.
The Practical Challenges
As Beverly puts it, “Some of my clients don’t realize that practicality is the first level of survival. Processing emotions is a luxury they have to put aside for the time being in order to cover their basic needs – like a place to live and food on the table.”
I see it in my legal practice all the time. Divorce alters everything about one’s life. Implementing the changes that have to be made during and after divorce is a big challenge for many women.
One of my recent clients who was divorcing her husband of 30 years explained her biggest fear to me. “I’m really afraid,” Kayla* said. “I’m totally unprepared to support myself.” She had gone to college to study psychology but left after her second year without getting a degree. As a young adult Kayla had managed her parents’ retail business until she became religious and got married. After that she was a full time homemaker and mother. “I have no idea what I’m going to do to earn a living now. Who will hire me?”
Two Prong Approach
Beverly Chimes says she meets women in this position all the time. “Many women are in their late 40’s and they’ve stayed at home to raise their kids. They have a college degree but they don’t know how to enter the workforce.”
She says that when it comes to money, women generally feel ignorant, powerless and frustrated because they don’t know much about managing finances. And her clients with kids worry about their children’s loyalty, and parenting alone without the physical support of someone to help carry the load.
When social work and coaching are combined, as in Beverly’s practice women have the benefit of two very important perspectives.
1) A deep understanding of the process one must go through to emotionally deal with divorce.
2) A goal oriented, practical planning and implementation facet to help get women on their feet.
“Therapeutic understanding and actual transformation,” says Beverly, “Is most often what a woman facing divorce needs. When she can establish what funds she’ll need, where she’ll be living and she can get her kids settled, only then will a woman have the capacity to move forward in her emotional mindset.”
There is a tremendous amount of support in Israel for women going through divorce. Quite a few organizations help agunot attain their Gets from recalcitrant husbands. There are counsellors and life coaches for every issue along the way. Financial advisors are available to help women make good decisions about their future. Financial aid is available in many forms.
Divorce is not easy. The 3 challenges Jewish women face with divorce will definitely change you. Take advantage of the resources available to help you make it a change for the better. May you go from strength to strength.
Jay Hait is an English speaking family law attorney here in Israel. He is committed to getting valuable, complimentary information out to the English speaking public. What you don’t know about the Israeli legal system can hurt you in a divorce or child custody issues or when writing a will and planning your retirement. The more you know the better the decisions you’ll make for your family’s future. Resources for women going through divorce. Complimentary Ebooks on divorce. Beverly Chimes Coaching.