Guide to Jewish marriage and divorce
In Jewish law, a marriage comprises two parts: the engagement or dedication ceremony (kiddushin or erusin) and the wedding (the nissu’in). Nowadays, kiddushin generally involves the placing of a ring on the bride’s right index finger. Her acceptance of this ring indicates her agreement to the marriage and its terms, which are contained in a ketubah (the marriage contract). The ketubah is a feature of all Jewish marriages and sets out the wife’s rights (for example, payments upon death or divorce) and obligations of the husband (providing food, shelter and clothing). This is signed by two witnesses. Finally, the couple are married underneath a chuppah, which symbolises their home together. Some believe this ceremony constitutes nissu’in, while others believe that being alone together in a room (yichud) is required. Both elements are now commonly combined into one wedding ceremony.
It is the first stage (kiddushin) that prohibits the woman to all other men, therefore requiring a religious divorce to dissolve it. The final stage of nissu’in permits the couple to each other.
If the marriage takes place in England in a registered synagogue then this will automatically constitute a valid marriage in the eyes of English law. If the marriage takes place abroad, then English law will recognise the marriage as valid so long as the marriage procedure is valid and recognised in the country in which is takes place.
A religious divorce is obtained through the Beth Din, the Jewish religious court. This is known as a ‘get’. According to Jewish law, a husband must present this to his wife to effect their divorce. However, a wife can sue for divorce in the Jewish courts, so as to require her husband to divorce her. Should either party withhold their consent to the get, this can have serious consequences as the other party is then chained to the marriage, preventing re-marriage in an orthodox context. In addition, any child born from a relationship with another party would be described as a ‘mamzer’ and would be unable to marry an orthodox Jewish person in later life. Jewish law requires that an Orthodox Jewish wedding be terminated not only by civil law, but also by the get.
Section 10A of the Matrimonial Causes Act seeks to address the problem of someone withholding the get. It allows either party to apply to the English courts to prevent decree absolute being given until such time as steps have been taken to dissolve the marriage in accordance with Jewish law. If you have a Jewish marriage alongside a civil law marriage, it is therefore important that you tell your legal advisers of this so that they can ensure that the civil divorce process ties in with the religious one.
Following a Jewish religious divorce, under Rabbinical law there is no obligation for the stronger party to financially support the weaker party. If the divorce takes place in England, the weaker party can make a financial claim against the stronger party based on the civil divorce proceedings. If the parties are divorced abroad according to Rabbinical law, the weaker party may be able to bring a financial claim in England against the wealthier party based on the overseas divorce. This claim is under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, and has broadly similar remedies to bringing a financial claim in the usual way under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. For more information on Part III proceedings, please see our guide on financial claims after a foreign divorce.
If you are interested in discussing your Jewish marriage and divorce please see How Vardags can help with Jewish marriage and divorce.