Divorce (illustration)
Divorce (illustration) iStock

Ten years since filing for a divorce and after seven years of her recalcitrant husband on the run, an American woman was finally granted a get in a story that spanned decades and continents.

The couple first married in Iran 39 years ago but even in its early years the relationship was filled with violence and ongoing abuse. When the couple fled Iran for the US 30 years ago, the husband’s abuse only intensified. But it would take until 2012 for the woman, R, to gain the courage to separate and ask for a legal divorce.

R was able to secure a police restraining order for one year - although after a series of threats to her family, she was forced to agree that he could return to their home. A month later he left of his own accord, but not before first destroying some of her identification documents and stealing much of their joint savings.

The woman quickly filed to have her assets returned but by 2015, after the proceedings had resulted in an arrest warrant, the husband again fled, this time with his whereabouts completely unknown. Based on her case, R was able to secure a civil divorce, but in his complete absence, Jewish law kept her an aguna, a “trapped woman,” until he would return to grant her a get.

In the meantime, the man’s psychological warfare against her continued, and she later found out that he went so far as to file a divorce suit against her in a Rabbinical Court without informing her. Never being updated of the proceedings, she of course failed to arrive to the court, and the husband was granted his request to be able to remarry - even while R had no chance of doing so, since she was still being held hostage, without a get.

Over the following years, the husband made sure to keep his location unknown, but recently R was informed that he had made his way to Israel. She quickly contacted Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha Legal Aid, the world’s largest, most comprehensive and experienced advocacy center for agunot, which handles many such cases on behalf of trapped women dealing with similarly evasive and get-refusing husbands. Adv. Limor Hajaj who represented R on behalf of the organization immediately filed halakhic divorce proceedings with the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, moved that the husband be restricted exit from the country and that he be compelled to grant his wife a divorce.

The husband appeared before the court but continued to refuse to grant the divorce demanding a variety of concessions on R’s part including that she give up the assets she had legally secured in their U.S. civil divorce agreement and pay exorbitant alimony payments retroactively for the past five years. The Rabbinical Court refused all his claims and handed down an official ruling that he issue the get and cease his attempts at extortion. With the man understanding his position and the likelihood that Hajaj would move for economic and other sanctions against him if he didn’t relent, he finally conceded to issue R the get, which was presented to her by a messenger of the court in the U.S.

Yad La'isha Adv. Limor Hajaj commended the decision saying, “This case is further proof that when the rabbinical judges stand up to men who are using the get to extort their wives, we can effectively confront and overcome these tactics. We can only hope this case will help motivate other rabbinical courts to act in a similar fashion because it can certainly help save other women facing similar challenges from years of unnecessary uncertainty and pain.”