Ketuba- is a special type of Jewish prenuptial agreement. It is considered an integral part of a traditional Jewish marriage, and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom, in relation to the bride. Nevertheless, there is no agreement in modern times as to the monetary worth of the ketubah, and in practice it is never enforced

Imposing a higher maintenance obligation on an Orthodox Jewish husband who refused to give his wife a religious divorce (“Get”) would violate constitutional protections. So held Orange County Acting Supreme Court Justice Catherine M. Bartlett in the January 13, 2017 decision in Masri v. Masri.

The parties married in 2002, separated in 2007 and have lived separate and apart since that time. They have 14 and 11 year-old children, the older one being disabled. The wife commenced the present action for a no-fault divorce March 8, 2016.

Since the separation, the wife has attempted without success to secure from the husband a “Get”, which she requires under Jewish law in order for her to remarry. The husband refused to participate in proceedings in 2012 before a Rabbinical Court, asserting that the wife had waived her right to rabbinical arbitration by previously going to a secular court (the divorce judgment in which had been vacated). The Rabbinical Court advised the husband that he had no power to decide the issue of the wife’s alleged waiver on his own, and was required to arbitrate that issue before the Rabbinical Court. The husband refused to comply, whereupon the Rabbinical Court declared him to be a “Rabbinical Court evader.”


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Mendel EpsteinAccording to Jewish law, God prescribed both the way to unite souls in marriage and gave instructions how those souls can be severed. While Jewish law requires one to follow the law of the land, and thus a civil divorce is required, that civil divorce cannot serve as a substitute for a halachic (conforming to the strictures of Jewish law) divorce, the “get.” Without a get, no matter how long the couple is separated, and regardless of civil law documents, in the eyes of Jewish law the couple is still married. As reported at Chabad.org:

“According to biblical law, a married couple is released from the bonds of matrimony only through the transmission of a bill of divorce from the husband to the wife. This document, commonly known by its Aramaic name, “get,” serves not only as a proof of the dissolution of the marriage in the event that one or both wish to remarry, it actually effects the divorce.”

To appreciate the scope of the problem, note, for example, that in December, 2015 70-year old Rabbi Mendel Epstein of Brooklyn (pictured), dubbed “The Prodfather,” was sentenced to 10 years in jail after he was convicted of charging wives thousands of dollars to torture their husbands into delivering a get. See, NY Daily News.

In 1983, New York enacted Domestic Relations Law §253 to address husbands who withhold the get. That section, in combination with DRL §236(B)(5)(h), and DRL §236(B)(6)(d) empowers a court to direct specific performance of a Ketubah (the marriage contract) or other agreement by which a husband previously agreed to provide a get to his wife. Civil contempt sanctions are available for non-compliance. Additionally, for withholding a get, the court may deny a husband any right to equitable distribution of the marital estate and/or award the wife maintenance at a level designed to encourage compliance. If the husband is the plaintiff, the court may also deny him a civil divorce.

In its April 13, 2016 decision in Mizrahi-Srour v. Srour, the Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed Kings County Supreme Court Justice Esther M. Morgenstern‘s award to the wife of maintenance of $100 per week for five years, which would be increased to $200 per week if the husband did not provide a get to the wife within 60 days, and also distributed to the wife 70% of the marital assets, and awarded counsel fees.


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Islam symbol.jpgIt seems that every decision after trial rendered by Kings County Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Sunshine is a divorce law treatise. His July 4, 2012 decision in Mojdeh M. v. Jamshid A. is no exception.

In addition to issues of property division, spousal maintenance for the husband, child support, and insurance, Justice Sunshine also

Church and State.jpgIn the United States, there is perhaps no greater blending of Church and State than with marriage and divorce. New York’s recognition of same-sex marriage shines a light on a debate as old as the country.

It took the 16th century Protestant Reformation to reject marriage as a religious sacrament.  For  Martin Luther, marriage was “a worldly thing.”  In the 17th century, the English Parliament declared “marriage to be no sacrament.” It was to be performed by a justice of the peace, not by a minister. The Puritans brought secular marriage to America. Back in England the pendulum swung back to the religious right in 1753, when the Church of England was put in charge of all marriages (including those of Catholics, but not of Quakers and Jews).

In New York, marriage is a hybrid. Domestic Relations Law §10 declares:

Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, continues to be a civil contract, to which the consent of parties capable in law of making a contract is essential.


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