An article in the New York Times that appeared earlier this spring discussed the phenomenon of Orthodox Jewish men refusing to grant their wives religious divorces. The article, available here, explains that if an Orthodox Jewish couple does not obtain a religious divorce, called a “get” in the Jewish culture, the wife is considered to be a “chained wife” and cannot remarry within her faith without stigmatizing any children she has with her new husband.

Often, men will not agree to a religious divorce unless the woman agrees to lower amounts of alimony, more custody time for the father, paying off more than her fair share of debts, or other financial decisions favorable to the husband. The New York Times article describes how one father-in-law had to pay $400,000 to pay the mortgage and unpaid credit card bills of his daughter’s ex-husband so that the ex-husband would consent to a religious divorce.

The phenomenon of Jewish men using religious divorces as a bargaining chip has prompted a movement that encourages the use of prenuptial agreements among Orthodox Jewish husbands and wives. Standard form prenuptial agreements are available. The most common one requires the husband to pay the wife $150 per day until they obtain a religious divorce.

The role of religious divorces in Orthodox Judaism shows that although a civil divorce (i.e., a divorce under state law) is necessary to legally end a marriage, religious divorces can significantly affect a couple’s resolution of their division of property and related matters. Whatever your faith, if you encounter the possibility of a religious divorce that may affect the outcome of your civil divorce, be sure to notify your divorce attorney. Your attorney can best represent your interests if he or she knows all of the facts and issues relevant to your case.