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How a Religious Divorce Can Affect a Civil Divorce

Have you ever wondered whether or how a religious divorce can affect a civil divorce? The short answer is that it can—and often does. For this reason, you can best protect your interests by consulting with a NJ civil divorce attorney who understands the interrelationship between the two.

Religious Divorces v. Civil Divorces

Those of devout faith are rightly concerned about ensuring their marriages (and the terminations of their marriages) do not impact their standing in their religion. Many religions place strict requirements on who may marry, who may conduct the ceremony, and what the ceremony includes.

Likewise, many religions dictate for their followers whether and how a divorce may be procured, as well as the consequences for those who divorce, and, in some cases, even their children. The variations are endless and depend on the religion and even specific strain of religion. Here are just a few examples to help you understand the issue.

Buddhism and Divorce

Buddhism is one of the more forgiving religions when it comes to divorce. Buddhists believe in the man and woman developing a complementary relationship as spouses. If this cannot be done, either partner may end the relationship, as “separation is preferable over a lifetime of misery.”

Catholicism and Divorce

In Catholicism, the lifelong religious bond of marriage may only be ended when approved by a church tribunal. There is no concept of a divorce in Catholicism; instead, a marriage may only be annulled, which means that it was never valid to begin with.

The grounds for an annulment include the ability to marry (no preexisting marriage that has not been annulled by the church or that ended in death), the ability to consent to marry for life (not underage, afflicted with a mental disability that affects the ability to consent), and the intention to “be faithful to one another and be open to children.”

Islam and Divorce

The Islamic religion places many restrictions on its adherents, and the specific restrictions depend on the adherent’s Islamic variation. Generally speaking, Islam, as well as many cultures in which Islam predominates, discourages divorce. When divorce occurs, the husband’s property is divided but the wife’s is not.

Islam recognizes different kinds of divorce, with one being initiated by the husband, a second being initiated by the husband specifically alleging his wife’s infidelity, and a third being initiated by the wife.

Judaism and Divorce

Although Judaism recognizes a religious divorce when absolutely necessary, its preference is for spouses to remain married. Generally speaking, “for a Jewish divorce to be effective the husband must hand the wife . . . a bill of divorcement, called a get, which also acts as proof of the divorce.” The wife must then accept the get for the religious divorce to be effective. A wife has no power to initiate a religious divorce in the more conservative Jewish strains.

When accomplished, the delivery of the get from husband to wife effects the divorce. No civil or religious court decree is necessary for adherents to the more conservative branches of Judaism. (Even so, a civil court decree would be necessary for the divorce to be recognized by non-religious entities, such as U.S. and state governments.”

The failure to obtain a get has many negative consequences for a Jewish wife, who is still Religious Candles - How Does a Religious Divorce Affect a Civil Divorce?considered to be married in the Jewish faith (and so cannot remarry) and who is considered an adulteress if she remarries secularly. In addition, any children the woman bears of a later relationship are considered illegitimate, and they have restrictions placed on who they may marry in the Jewish faith.

An Example of How a Religious Divorce Can Affect a Civil Divorce: Judaism and Divorce

Let’s examine some issues that may arise in a civil divorce proceeding for a conservative Jewish couple. First, because only the man may deliver the get, he has significant bargaining power in any civil divorce negotiations. This has led to many cases in U.S. civil courts in which the man withheld delivery of the get to extract significant concessions in civil divorce, such as a more favorable settlement relating to alimony, child custody and visitation, and property division. The traditional Jewish woman who wishes to avoid negative religious consequences for herself and her future children is far more likely to agree to unreasonable conditions of a civil divorce.

Likewise, if a husband wants a religious divorce so that he may remarry in the faith, the wife’s bargaining power is increased by refusing to accept the get.

Nationwide, including NJ, many court cases have arisen that involve Jewish couples who have been divorced in a court of law but who have not been able to divorce religiously because one spouse refused to deliver—or accept—a get. This has caused courts to try to find various ways to compel the delivery or acceptance of the get. These methods include forcing a husband to participate in a religious tribunal, enforcing a marriage agreement made by the parties as a secular prenuptial agreement, and compensating the wife for having suffered emotional distress.

In addition, as with many religions, the evidence provided in either the religious or civil divorce may be used in the other proceeding. This can result in significant consequences, as well.

If you need legal advice about how a religious divorce can affect a civil divorce in your situation, contact me, Elizabeth Rozin-Golinder, by filling out my Contact Form or calling (732) 810-0034. Located in East Brunswick, I have years of experience as an NJ divorce attorney, and I'll put my experience to work for you and your children.

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