Every Jew is pained and embarrassed by the incidence of agunot, women trapped in long-dead marriages by recalcitrant husbands. We properly respond with every social power at our command against such husbands. In the nine years of the Boston Agunah Task Force, plus my service for over 30 years on rabbinic divorce courts, we have learned that most of these cases are preventable. Here are three simple principles that can help put an end to this scourge. Please share this widely.
PRINCIPLE #1: NO CIVIL AGREEMENT WITHOUT A GET GUARANTEE.
The vast majority of divorce cases end in agreement rather than trial. Trials are incredibly expensive and toxic. It makes no sense for almost anyone to go to trial rather than give (or accept) a get. So the first and most important principle is that no one should ever agree to settle a divorce case unless either the get has already been given and received, or else has been guaranteed in a civilly enforceable manner. GetYourGet and the Beit Din of America can help your lawyer formulate the guarantee in the most halakhically and civilly effective manner.
Once this principle has been internalized, the second follows inevitably.
PRINCIPLE #2: NO NEGOTIATIONS ABOUT THE GET GUARANTEE
If you’re absolutely clear that without a get, there won’t be an agreement, then every draft of the agreement has to have the get guarantee right up front, nonnegotiably. Anything else would be in bad faith. Your lawyer needs to be absolutely clear about this as well.
You can talk to each other about choices within the get process – do you want to appear together or separately, which beit din, and the like. But not about whether there will be a get.
PRINCIPLE #3: NO NEGOTIATIONS WITHOUT THE GET GUARANTEE
A well-intentioned friend or rabbi may suggest that you put off discussing the get until after everything else is settled. That advice is simply wrong. Instead, you should refuse to negotiate anything until your spouse accepts that a get guarantee will be part of every draft agreement. Negotiations about other issues are just a trap. The get doesn’t have to happen right away, but it has to be guaranteed to happen.
Implementing these principles can be tricky. You have to make sure that the beit din and the civil courts do not get in each other’s way, or if you are arbitrating in beit din, that the beit din is competent at doing the things necessary to make its decisions civilly enforceable. You may be worried that your spouse would rather go to trial than give up the power get-refusal gives them. Or you may have been civilly divorced before reading this article.
In all these cases, please contact the Boston Agunah Task Force via https://www.getyourget.com/contact-us. We stand ready to help you, as we have helped many before you.
Shanna Giora-Gorfajn, Esq., Chair, Legal Advisory Board of the Boston Agunah Taskforce
Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, Director of the HBI Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, Dean, The Center for Modern Torah Leadership
Layah Kranz Lipsker, Director, Boston Agunah Taskforce, Jewish Educator, Hebrew College, Meah Program