Civil and Religious Divorce for Jewish Couples in Florida

Alan R. Burton Attorney at Law

The principle of separation of church and state affects many aspects of United States law, including family law. For example, a marriage ceremony in a church, temple, or mosque is not enough to render a couple legally married under United States law; they must also obtain a marriage license and marriage certificate from the court in the state in which they reside.  (Some states will issue marriage licenses to out-of-state couples, but others have a residency requirement.)  Likewise, when it comes to divorce, civil proceedings and religious proceedings are independent of each other. In Judaism, a marriage is officially considered dissolved when the husband issues the wife a document called a Get, which proclaims that the parties are free to remarry.

How Does a Get Work in Theory and in Practice?

A Get is a short document, consisting of only 12 lines, always written in the presence of a rabbi and signed by witnesses.  It declares that the marriage has been dissolved, and that the former spouses may enter into new marriages. Unlike a civil divorce decree, it does not contain any details about division of property or child custody.

According to Jewish law, a woman cannot enter a new valid marriage until her previous marriage has been dissolved by the issuance of a Get. If she has children with her new husband, they are not automatically acknowledged as members of the Jewish community and would need to go through a conversion process in order to marry within the faith.

The husband and wife need not both be physically present when the Get is drafted in order for it to be valid. Especially if they are estranged because of domestic abuse, one or both can send a representative to act on his or her behalf at the signing of the Get.

Florida courts do not require Jewish couples to obtain a Get at any point in civil divorce proceedings, just as they do not require Catholic couples to have the Church annul their marriages. Religious requirements rarely play a role in Florida family law cases.

Denomination Matters

A Get cannot take the place of a civil divorce, but how much civil divorce affects religious divorce varies from one denomination of Judaism to another. In Orthodox Judaism, the Get is, for all practical purposes, the only way to end a marriage. Even if an Orthodox Jewish couple gets a civil divorce, remarriage within the faith is not possible until a Get is issued. Several years ago, an Orthodox Jewish couple in New York, Yoel Weiss and Rivky Stein, were the subject of media attention when he refused to grant her a Get.

In Conservative Judaism, divorced couples still often end their marriages with a Get, but it is much easier to end the marriage without a Get than it is in Orthodox Judaism. If the husband refuses to grant his wife a Get, the Beit Din (rabbinical court) can annul the marriage, and the wife will be able to enter into a new Jewish marriage. Reform Judaism does not require a Get; it considers a civil divorce sufficient to end the marriage.

Contact Alan Burton About Divorce in Florida

Alan Burton is a family law attorney whose goal is to make divorce as painless as possible for couples who are going through it. Contact Alan R. Burton in Boca Raton, Florida for a consultation about your divorce case.

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