Post-Divorce Financial Considerations/Rabbi Reuven Bulka

Posted on November 7, 2010

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Both husband and wife, as they untangle, and wrestle with the complicated matter of financial arrangements, should disavow, to their own selves, any thought of making a killing on the deal, or really “sticking it” to the other. Each has the obligation to do the right thing for the other, at the same time as they make sure that the other does the right thing by them. The one usually follows the other.

Granted that the finances are a matter of contention in divorce, as much as finances can be a matter of contention within marriage. Nevertheless, the basic thrust should be towards assuring financial security, and not toward punishing the other by imposing excessive, unreasonable, and unattainable demands. This creates ill-will and resistance. And from a practical point of view, it is self-defeating. It is understood that there will be many situations in which one of the couple thinks his or her request is reasonable, but the other thinks it to be an exorbitant demand. Through the good offices of an objective third party (in Israel that objective third party being the Rabbinical Court), these matters can be adjudicated in an impartial, objective, and mutually fair way.

The system may have its problems, but its general thrust, one of fairness and equity, should be applauded. One tends to hear only the negative. It is safe to say that the public at large is not aware of many of the guiding principles that govern the approach of the Rabbinical Court in Israel. There are some bureaucratic problems. The Rabbinical Court is an officially recognized legal authority, and does get caught in the bureaucratic tangle that is inimical to the entrenched system. The system may move slowly, but the values of the system are salutary.

An Unused Option

The situation outside Israel is somewhat different than it is in Israel. The Jewish court outside Israel has no jurisdictional power to deal with divorce cases, aside from the purely religious area of the transmission of the Get. Unlike in Israel, where once the Rabbinical Court is approached, it has jurisdictional powers over all components of the divorce, outside Israel it is the secular courts which dictate what occurs in the divorce settlement. In most instances, a couple will approach the Rabbinical Court to finalize the Judaic side of the separation only after all other outstanding issues have been resolved, including the civil divorce, the financial payment, and the custody settlement. It is unfortunate that couples who divorce do not think of the Rabbinical Court outside Israel as anything more than a religious court for religious matters. The idea that Rabbis should be involved in the final disposition of the matrimonial property and of custodial matters is quite foreign to most Jews.

This is lamentable, since generally, Jewish life does not make this type of arbitrary division between the religious and the ordinary. It refuses to evince concern only for the “religious,” but not for the ordinary. Quite the contrary, the ordinary everyday dialectic is of vital importance in Judaism. The ordinary is itself potentially holy. The wide expanse of halakhic (Judeo-legal) literature on financial settlement in matrimonial matters, as well as the discussion of custody issues, is ample testimony to this.

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