Divorce statistics in the Israeli courts

The number of divorces in Israel has risen in the year 2013 by 5.8% compared to the previous year. In absolute numbers that adds up to 11,219 married couples who formally dissolved their marriage according to Jewish law and no longer comprise the family unit which they had established together.

The Directorate of the Israeli Rabbinical Courts released the statistics summing up the Courts’ work for the year 2013 (www.rbc.gov.il). Each year the courts get busier, due to the fact that there is an increase in the number of files opened – 90,237 in the past year as opposed to 88,051 in the previous year. Of all those files 11,219 couples got divorced in 2013. Clearly, not all the files are divorce suits, but most are divorce related. There were 7,557 divorce suits (meaning unilateral suits) filed during the year, along with 9,515 requests for the authorization of divorce agreements (a joint file). Assuming that all of the latter proceeded to arrange the get (or almost all), that would mean that 1,704 of the divorces were the conclusion of the unilateral suits. Of course these numbers are not accurate since there is spillover from one year to the next. Some of the cases closed are from previous years. But it does present a general picture. And that picture is that approximately 5,853 suits for divorce were filed in 2013, but no get was yet arranged.

The Directorate supplied another statistic—the average number of days that passed from the opening of a file until its closing is 96. That indeed is speedy treatment and adjudication. By the ruler used to judge any court system it is admirable. However, the speedy closing of cases clearly must be the process for amicable divorces or any of the other types of files brought before the court: inheritance cases, custody suits, spousal support claims, division of assets, clarification of Jewish status and the like. It does not seem to apply to the 5,853 unilateral suits for divorce which had no resolution the same year they were opened. This begs the questions—are these open files cases of get-refusal?

On the other hand, there were two encouraging bits of information. The absolute number of cases closed — 90,237 – was actually higher than the number of suits filed in the past calendar year – 89,175. This indicates that at least 1,062 files from previous years were resolved. (The number of cases resolved which were opened in previous years is actually much more, since we know that about 5,853 of the divorce cases this year were not closed and therefore not part of the high number of cases closed.) Also, happily for the agunot involved, the Directorate succeeded in bringing home a get for 159 women whose husbands had fled from Israel.

The Rabbinical Courts did employ sanctions against recalcitrant husbands in 2013 – actually 168 restraining orders were levied against 46 such men. These orders included the closing of bank accounts, cancellation of drivers’ licenses, the prevention of traveling out of the country and even disallowing a husband from running for public office! In addition, those get-refusers who were incarcerated in prison at the time, saw their privileges taken away.

All in all, the numbers do not paint an encouraging picture. For the number of divorces is on a steep rise since the year 2010. That fact, in and of itself is sad. But even sadder is the number of cases where the Jewish divorce is not arranged. The case is not closed on get-refusal.

About the Author
Rachel Levmore, PhD in Talmud and Jewish Law from Bar Ilan University, is the director of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency; one of the authors of the prenuptial "Agreement for Mutual Respect"; author of "Min'ee Einayich Medim'a" on prenuptial agreements for the prevention of get-refusal; and the first female Rabbinical Court Advocate to serve on the Israel Commission for the Appointment of Rabbinical Court Judges.