Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Israel Amends Its Divorce Law

Israel has made a significant amendment to its divorce law.

In Israel divorce is in the exclusive hands of the rabbinical courts for all Jewish Israelis – and that will continue to be the case. The amendment is to the 1973 Spousal Property Relations Law which permitted the civil family court to divide the spouses’ assets only after the rabbinical courts had granted a get (religious divorce).

Proponents of the amendment argued that the 1973 law tempted husbands to refuse to grant their wives a get so that the assets, generally in the husband's name, would not be divided between them. The division of assets also gave the husband a means to “blackmail” his wife as a condition for granting the get. The amendment will now allow for the division of spousal property prior to divorce in cases where divorce proceedings last more than one year or if it is proven that a marriage is in irretrievable breakdown, and in cases of domestic violence.

When the Knesset voted to enact the amendment last month, Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Director of Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women -- who played a leading role in the promulgation of the amendment -- said that, “The Knesset has taken a major step forward in promoting women's status in Israel today. This is a day of celebration for women in Israel, for the advancement of gender equality and for the advancement of human rights in Israel.”

At a conference at Bar-Ilan University this week, Prof. Halperin-Kaddari expressed concern that rabbinical courts might attempt to fight the legislation. The administrative head of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, said that he was concerned that rabbinical courts will be unable to convince one of the sides to agree to divorce after all the property matters have been decided. He said that he was also concerned that if property matters could be settled quickly, there would be no chance to persuade the sides to reconsider the divorce. Finally he argued that secular couples, unlike religious couples, would not bother to finalize the divorce with a get once the property matters had been decided.