Legal and Religious Divorce

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09 March, 2022

Sarah Robson

The media have recently reported that a Manchester man has been convicted in an English Court for controlling behaviour, and may face a custodial sentence, for denying his wife a Get (Jewish religious divorce). Whilst the refusal of the husband to obtain the Get was one of several factors that amounted to coercive and controlling behaviour, it sends a message that the English Courts will assist women who are placed at a disadvantage by their husband's refusal to obtain a religious divorce.

The circumstances of this particular case were that the parties separated in 2016 and the wife had petitioned for divorce in the family court. The legal divorce was finalised in 2019. The wife brought a private prosecution for a charge of controlling and coercive behaviour for the period of time since 2016. One of the factors put forward by the wife in support of the prosecution was the husband's refusal to give the wife the Get. Without the Get a wife is prevented from being able to re-marry and is effectively still married to the husband for the purposes of the religious marriage. This can have significant religious consequences for a wife if she seeks to start a new relationship or have a child with a new partner.

Guidance provided under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has advised that the refusal to obtain a religious divorce can be considered domestic abuse if it amounts to coercive and controlling behaviour.

Controlling behaviour: is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour: is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

As such the refusal to obtain the Get can be considered part of this type of behaviour.

It is important to distinguish between legal and religious divorces. A religious divorce obtained in England will not be recognised as a divorce in the English courts and parties to a divorce may well need to obtain both a religious and legal divorce. If the religious divorce was obtained overseas it may well be different, and subject to certain conditions may be treated as a valid legal divorce in the English Court.

For example:

  1. The religious divorce is valid in the country where it was obtained
  2. At the time the divorce was granted either the husband or the wife were domiciled or habitually resident in the country where it was obtained
  3. Both the husband and the wife had notice of the proceedings

At Forbes we can assist either party in obtaining a legal divorce and advise you through the process. Where there are issues in respect of the other party's refusal to obtain the religious divorce there are steps that can be taken to assist the party at a disadvantage.

For more information contact Sarah Robson in our Family/Divorce department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Family/Divorce department here

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