Brotherhood of Torment

I have written a number of times about the trend in Israeli Family Law to file tort cases against recalcitrant spouses; men who will not give a get (Jewish divorce), or women who will not accept one.

(See for example, here and here.)

Recently there were headlines in Israel about a ruling by Justice Menachem HaCohen of the Jerusalem Family court, in which he awarded damages to a woman who sued her former brother-in-law for his part in encouraging the former husband to withhold a get for a number of years.

As is generally the case, the media didn’t quite get the story right, since the headlines sounded more far-reaching than the actual decision, which you can find, in Hebrew, here.

The splash of the headlines was to say that the Family Court ruled that a family member had to pay damages for encouraging a husband not to give a get.It wasn’t quite as simple as that.

In fact, there have been cases in which parents of recalcitrant spouses have been sued for damages; to the best on my knowledge that has been in cases where the husband had fled the country, and the suit was based on the claim that the parents knew where he had fled, and were sending financial support to help him out. Most such cases never reached a formal judgement, since the getwas given and the women decided to drop the case.

In this particular case, the circumstances were somewhat more complicated, and the role played by the husband’s brother was both active and agressive.

The husband had some or other degree of mental disability, so that at a certain point the rabbinic court which was hearing the woman’s divorce suit, appointed his brother as guardian ad litem. The brother appeared on behalf of the husband and from the facts as they emerge in the court’s decision, seems to have taken it as a personal affront that the wife wanted a divorce. From the facts as laid out in the decision, the husband would have been far more cooperative with the rulings of the Beit din which ordered him to give the divorce, and the woman would not have remain chained to her husband for so many years.

I don’t know what happens in other countries, but in Israel, I frequently see an over-identification of certain family members with the partner who did not initiate the divorce. . “If you are divorcing my brother/son/daughter/third-cousin-once-removed you are impugning the honour and dignity of our entire tribe, and I’ll help that same relative fight you to the end.” Oh yes, and by the way, those same relatives not taking into account whether or not this prolonged fight actually serves the interest of this same family member they purport to love.

Despite the lack of nuance in the newspaper headlines, I hope that they will deter family members from jumping on the bandwagon of tormenting a spouse who wishes to move on and build a new life for his or herself.

Finally, Justice Menachem Hacohen has given a number of very important decisions over the past few years in the field of damages awarded to spouses unable to obtain a get. It is clear that he sees his role in shaping judicial policy in this area very seriously.

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