A woman in her 3rd marriage refuses to give her husband a get (divorce). For 5 yrs she has promised, and then refuses. The home life is very negative for the children, the woman has been in therapy for years...What can this man do? Does this differ in different movements in Judaism?
Let me open with my sympathies for the difficulty of your situation; it is not pleasant to be in a difficult marriage or to have to deal with a difficult spouse. While I can answer the technical aspects of the question, the kind of true comfort you seek can only come from friends and other support systems (or your internal sense of yourself, your ability to build yourself up to cope with the challenges that come your way). I hope you find a wealth of those to help you through your hard times.
That being said, my first reaction to your question is that we all need to remember that Judaism never thought that a get should be a tool of coercion, on either side. I can only answer with my understanding of Orthodox Judaism, but in Orthodoxy, when a marriage ends, the giving of the get is not supposed to be a contentious issue, on either side. If a woman has valid reasons to leave a marriage, the husband is required to give her a get, and if the man does, the woman is required to accept it. The temptation to argue the validity of the dissatisfied spouse's reasons is-- almost all of the time-- a specious one. Much of the reason we have so many problems with Jewish divorce today is that rabbis have insufficient power to impose halachah on recalcitrant spouses, since halachah never envisioned a situation where a woman would be without a get for more than a year. In truth, rabbis today also often refrain from using even the power they do have. None of that should take away from the basic fact that a get was never meant to be a tool by which to force someone, anyone, to stay in a marriage that has already failed.
The fact that this woman is in her 3rd marriage is, I confess, irrelevant except insofar as the husband might have wondered ahead of time what he was getting himself into and it might make her more desperate to hold on to this, no matter how bad. Now that he is there, and there are children, some questions are in order. For example, the question seems to imply the couple is still living together; is that true? If so, it's not that she refuses to accept a get, it's that they're still married (are they, for example, still cohabiting-- if so, the husband has not yet really decided to divorce her; in halachah, in fact, it is prohibited to have sexual relations with someone you intend to divorce). She has been in therapy for years, is it working? Is progress being made? You say the home life is very negative for the children, but is it more negative for them than a divorced home would be? Would custody be joint, or would the father see the children less than now-- if the latter, it might be worth considering whether divorce is best for the children? Would the mother become even more negative if divorced?
I ask all these questions because they seem, to me, relevant to how the husband should proceed. If he has stayed in the marriage this long, it does not seem that getting out is an emergency. If he believes that he needs to get out for himself, that he cannot take it anymore, then he should (see below for how); if he believes the children will be better off if he ends the marriage, then he should (see below for how). But if the marriage is sort of muddling along, unpleasant as it is, and she is in therapy (and making slow progress; if she's not, perhaps a different therapist is in order), and the children are living within a relatively stable family- note that children are often oblivious to how bad their parents' relationship is, that for them, having two parents in their lives is enough-- it might be worth considering whether he needs to leave, what he loses by staying and what he gains by staying (in terms of helping others, in terms of helping his children grow up in a relatively stable environment).
That being said, if the time has come to end the marriage, the husband should either move out, or insist the wife does, and initiate divorce proceedings in a Bet Din. If she refuses to show up, the Bet Din will also give him the right to divorce her in civil court, and as that process proceeds, she will most likely accept a get. If she continues to refuse a get in the face of a civil divorce and separation from her husband, etc. and the husband has the desire to remarry or at least seek another spouse, he can get the Bet Din to give him a heter meah rabbonim, a document that allows him to follow Biblical law and marry a second wife. In my limited experience, unless the wife is in a coma, it rarely gets that far, since once she sees that he will be able to live his life without her, she will accept a get, since to do otherwise only hurts her.
Ending a marriage is never easy, and harder if one of the spouses wants to make it so. I empathize with the difficulty in being in such a relationship, and hope for you that you find a way forward that works out best for all involved.
Marriage is the foundation upon which the family is built and the family is the bedrock upon which Judaism and the Jewish community grows and thrives.Therefore, the dissolution of a marriage is no small matter and I am saddened to learn of this painful situation for this couple, their children, and all who are affected in this case.
The delivery and acceptance of the get (divorce document) is the critical act that actualizes the divorce.The document essentially restores each of the legal rights to the couple as unmarried individuals wherein they are free to marry anyone else without fear of adultery and that they are no longer obligated to the conditions of the Jewish marriage contract (ketubah).
In the Bible, it was the husband who had full right of initiating and dissolving the marriage.After a widely accepted decree by Rabbenu Gershom ben Yehuda (960-1028, Germany) that ensured more equality between the sexes, the wife’s consent to the get became necessary. In fact, it is more often the case, and potentially more problematic, that the husband refuses to give the wife a get, relegating her to the status of an agunah (literally, “a chained woman”).
This case is particularly distressing, however, because the marital discontent has continued for at least five years without resolution.Moreover, it is impossible to measure the psychological and emotional toll this has taken on the children.
In the Diaspora (outside of the land of Israel), where Jewish law and status has little to no sway over civil law and status, the issue of Jewish divorce is of less consequence.That is to say, when a couple or individual pursues a get, it is usually after a civil divorce has been obtained, the couple has already separated, and the question of custody over the children has been addressed.To refuse a get after a civil divorce has been granted and custody has been established, would be to violate the Torah’s injunction not to put a stumbling block before the blind (Lev. 19:14), since it would not necessarily deter the husband from dating, marrying, and having children with someone else. Indeed, given that it is after five years and if the husband has not begun to engage the process of civil divorce, one must ask: why not?
In order to prevent this kind of case from happening in the first place, the Conservative Movement offers the Lieberman Clause (created by Rabbi Saul Lieberman) as a halakhically-binding addendum to the ketubah.In essence, it stipulates that if the marriage is dissolved under civil law, a Beit Din may dissolve the marriage under Jewish law with the consent of either spouse.
If the couple does not have the Lieberman Clause in their ketubah, there are several traditional reasons given as to when a husband may sue his wife for a divorce, including adultery and insanity.Identifying such reasons for divorce may help her to choose to consent to the get or for a Beit Din (Rabbinical Court) to counsel (and, in some cases, coerce) her to consent.
Finally, once the civil divorce has occurred, as a last resort in Jewish law involving Rabbenu Gershom’s decree – “a woman may not be divorced against her will” – a man may remarry due to something called heter meah Rabbanim (literally “a permit from one hundred rabbis”). Originally, if a man went from town to town to plead his case, and he acquired the signatures of one hundred rabbis who agreed to permit him to remarry despite his wife’s refusal to consent to the get, the local Beit Din would accept it.Today, with easier modes of communication and travel, the Beit Din itself can secure the one hundred required signatures.Of course, however, the first wife in this case continues to remain married by Jewish law and may not herself remarry until she consents to the get.
As a concluding thought, a couple should do everything possible to safeguard the sanctity of marriage and the welfare of the children.There are, however, cases where divorce is the best solution for a family.Judaism under the spirit of Jewish law recognizes the preciousness of life, as well as the pitfalls of any legal system.Therefore, it wisely provides for mechanisms to prevent problems before they happen and exit strategies for when they do unfortunately happen.
I have to admit that this question is perplexing, because it makes some assumptions that I don’t think are warranted.
First, from a Reform Jewish perspective, the agreement of a spouse is not a prerequisite to pursuing a civil divorce (at least in the US – I don’t know about the law of other nations).
Second, the Reform movement does not require (though many of the rabbis within it – including me - strongly urge, and in many cases will not perform remarriage without evidence of) both a civil and a religious divorce, including a formal ‘get’ document being obtained (though the source of this document, and the specifics of the ritual process may vary from rabbi to rabbi and from movement to movement, the concept is similar across the board).
Third, traditionally, the husband issues the get – the wife does not – and if the wife will not agree to receive it, the document can be delivered for the husband through the Beit Din (religious/rabbinical court) to an agent who receives if on her behalf, at which point it becomes effective with or without her agreement, or the husband can seek a dispensation from the religious court to take a second wife, making her refusal irrelevant.
The Reform stream (along with the Reconstructionist, Conservative, and other streams) of Judaism has sought ways to make this process more egalitarian, by empowering both men and women to initiate a get (or to agree to it in advance), and by providing additional means that the process, including delivery and acceptance, can be effected without the parties needing to meet face to face, where that would be a hardship.
Consequently, I see nothing that the woman you describe could do that would prevent the husband in question from divorcing her, if that is truly his desire. The issues of the custody and wellbeing of the children, and the financial dissolution and distribution of the marital property would be determined by the civil court. The religious court would dissolve the Jewish marriage with delivery of the get. The marriage would be terminated in both senses.
The mental state of the woman or her status vis a vis therapy or counseling is not relevant to the divorce itself. Nor is there any obligation or need to seek her agreement or permission to file for divorce, so whether she promises to agree or not is completely irrelevant. The conditions in the home would materially affect the determinations of the civil court, and might be used as evidence of the irreparable nature of the marriage in the religious court, but they do not dispositively determine the outcome of the filing. In most states in the US, divorce is a no-fault proceeding – no one has to prove that the marriage is bad, or that one spouse or the other has violated trust. Those concerns may affect any property division or custody arrangements, but a divorce can generally be obtained, even in situations where the parties simply are not compatible.
The real issues here are motivation and desire. If the man sincerely wishes a divorce and believes that the marriage is over and unsalvageable, he can proceed, but must do so in a clear fashion, including severing any real or perceived marital relations with this woman.
In none of the instances described, no matter the stream of Judaism, can I see any obstacle to this man proceeding (unless, of course, he is not Jewish, in which case this entire discussion is moot, and a get is unnecessary).
For more information about this sort of issue, I suggest you do a search in the JVO question archives on Agunah or Agunot (chained woman or chained women) - those who are identified as married, though the marriage has dissolved or ended, and the spouse is no longer there/presumably dead. You will find in that discussion that there is no such thing as a 'chained man' in Jewish tradition, so the situation you describe in your question is at best an oddity.
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