Conn. Court Enforces Jewish Divorce Requirement

Conn. Court Enforces Jewish Divorce Requirement January 9, 2013

Here’s another case where a married couple had a contractual agreement requiring a religious duty and a Connecticut state court has agreed to enforce that document, ruling that it did not cause any unnecessary entanglement of the court with religious matters. The ruling is on Lexis, so I can’t link to it.

Rachel and Eben Light had a prenuptial agreement that said that if they ever get divorced, the husband had to pay the wife $100 upon separation for every day until he granted her a Jewish religious divorce, called a “get.” The wife filed a motion with the court to enforce that agreement and force him to pay what he agreed to pay, saying they had been separated for several years. The husband argued that the agreement is a religious document and therefore the court has no jurisdiction to enforce it. The court rejected that argument:

In the present case, a determination as to whether the prenuptial agreement is enforceable would not require the court to delve into religious issues. Determining whether the defendant owes the plaintiff the specified sum of money does not require the court to evaluate the proprieties of religious teachings. Rather, the relief sought by the plaintiff is simply to compel the defendant to perform a secular obligation, i.e., spousal support payments, to which he contractually bound himself…

Enforcement of the prenuptial agreement does not require either the plaintiff or the defendant to engage in any act of worship or profess any religious belief. To the extent that enforcement of the prenuptial agreement advances Judaism by requiring support for the wife until the husband gives her a get, it is an incidental effect of the enforcement of the parties’ contract that Jewish law govern the status of their marriage. Finally, enforcement of the prenuptial agreement does not result in an excessive entanglement with religion.

And this is the correct result. Of course, if this had been an identical contract but the parties were Muslim, Frank Gaffney and Robert Spencer would be screaming about the court enforcing Sharia law. And this is exactly why laws like the one in Oklahoma, forbidding any consideration of Islamic or foreign law are a very bad idea; sometimes contracts require the courts to do so and it is entirely appropriate that they do. Kansas’ recently passed law is considerably better in this regard, forbidding the courts from enforcing such contracts only if doing so violates the constitutional rights of one of the parties.

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  • The ruling was on an item within a civil, secular prenuptual agreement. The courts could not order the husband to obtain a get, but they could — and did — rule that the contract to pay a fine until mutually agreed conditions were met was valid.

    Jewish, Muslim or Raelian, the court said nothing at all about religious matters.

  • shouldbeworking

    A good, secular decision.

  • Creeping Halakha!! They’re going to make us turn off the lights and give up our cars on Saturdays! Call General Boynton.

  • Alverant

    It’s simple contract law. Both people made an agreement and now one person wants to back out. In this case religion is irrevelent. The agreement does not violate anyone’s rights and should be allowed to stand. It would be the same case if a caterer agreed to follow religious dietary laws for a job then failed to do so.

  • noastronomer

    Whilst agreeing with the general sentiment that this is the right decision I am curious about the actual circumstances of the separation and also whether this type of agreement is normal in Jewish pre-nuptial contracts.

    In particular I wonder if Ebon simpy refused the “get”. Or if Rachel never asked for it then sometime later she realizes this, takes a look at the contract, does the math and discovers a way to get that new Mercedes.


  • Ronal Martin

    Greg. the reason for this being news worthy is because of all of the bumpkin states that were banning “Sharia” law, when this is no different, except for the faith they follow, both involve civil contracts and “prenups” that incorporate what their faith dictates the procedure for divorce .

  • bradleybetts

    I thinkthat’s the right decision. It doesn’t matter why that clause was in the pre-nup, the fact is it was and he signed it, so he’s obligated to fulfill it’s requirements.

  • khms

    It seems to me that if he wants out, he has to argue that the obligation is too onerous for him – which means arguing why giving her this “get” is too onerous. If he did that, then and only then would the court need to look at the actual religious law.

    Not knowing the law in question, I can only speculate, but if, for example, obtaining this get involved him professing a faith that he no longer holds, that might be reason to give him an out – state can’t force religious belief. Then they’d have to figure out what a reasonable compensation might look like.

    Of course, IANAL, US citizen, or Jew, and all that …