Written by Movement for Reform Judaism Friday, 19 February 2010Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain of Maidenhead Synagogue addresses your questions. This week's question: I was married in synagogue some years ago, but the marriage has now broken up. How do I go about obtaining a divorce that is recognised both legally and Jewishly?
Your original marriage was done in two parts : civil and religious. When there is a divorce, both parts have to be ‘unmade’ for the dissolution of the marriage to be complete. The civil divorce - which is obtained via the civil courts - affects the civil side of the marriage only. It means that you also have to gain a religious divorce too. This is an independent and separate process, and is usually execcuted only after the civil divorce has been settled, but you can put both in motion at the same time, while it can be a condition of the civil divorce that a religious one will be executed too. In order to obtain the religious divorce, either party applies to the Beth Din (Jewish religious court) for the get (the Hebrew term for the religious divorce).
There is a significant difference in approach between the two divorces. Whereas in civil law, it is the court that authorises the divorce, in Jewish law it is the couple themselves who authorise the get, with the Beth Din only serving to supervise and ratify it. Both parties have to consent to the granting of the get, in which case the Beth Din issues a certificate to that effect . But if one party cannot be contacted or refuses to agree, then an Orthodox Beth Din will generally be unable to act. However, the Reform Beth Din holds that if the refusal is unreasonable (eg if the civil divorce has already been granted, then there is usually no reason why the religious one should not follow), so it will go ahead and award the get on its own accord. Once the get has been granted, both parties are free to remarry in synagogue (and although the Orthodox do not recognise a Reform get, everyone else does). Any future marriage can also have a full chuppah.
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