You certainly never expected to be dismantling the life you and your spouse built together. You’re probably worried about your future, and the effect divorce will have on your kids. But being aware of the 6 steps to getting divorced in Israel with a comprehensive divorce agreement, will help reduce the financial and emotional costs.
What is a comprehensive divorce agreement?
A divorce agreement has to be reached between two people who are ending their marriage. Child support, child custody and asset division are the main topics that have to be worked out. This can happen in one of two ways. Either the judge or judges decide or the couple works it out together and brings the agreement to the court.
Reaching a comprehensive divorce agreement has proven to be the best way for a couple to end their marriage. It is far less expensive and causes less emotional damage to the family, especially the children (when the couple has children). People more readily adhere to agreements, and are less likely to enter into future litigation with the accompanying legal and emotional costs. Agreements reached through direct negotiations tend to be more stable and equitable. Although, it is possible to work via intermediaries and still get favorable results.
I always recommend that couples (especially those with children) at least try marital counseling before they decide to get divorced. But whether or not you have kids, share assets or want to remain friends after divorce, the bottom line is attempting a negotiated agreement – rather than going through litigation – has proven in my experience, to be the best approach to exiting a marriage.
The question then is, once you have reached the “terms” of your divorce agreement what is the process of getting divorced in Israel? It is a bit different than what you may be familiar with because the issue of “personal status” or religion is not really relevant in most other Western countries. These 6 steps to getting divorced through a comprehensive divorce agreement in Israel are required for a couple where both spouses are Jewish.
Step #1 Formalizing the Agreement
The reason you’ve chosen to get divorced via an agreement is to avoid the costs (both financial and emotional) associated with litigating your issues (suing in court). Working out this agreement can theoretically be done without the involvement of any attorneys. If you and your spouse are communicating amicably it may be possible to have a meeting of the minds without assistance.
The agreement has to be written in Hebrew, in a format that both the Family and Rabbinic courts will accept. And the correct wording will ensure both its future enforceability and the mechanisms needed to address any conflicts should they occur. It would be a real pity to reach an agreement only to find that mistakes and omissions contained in it have led you to litigation in the future – the very situation that you worked so hard to avoid. If you choose to hire an attorney it’s his or her job to smooth the discussions (through formal mediation if necessary) and ensure the document protects his or her client.
Once you and your spouse have reached the agreement in principle on all of the terms of your divorce, it needs to be formalized. This formal document typically contains between four and twelve pages. Both you and your spouse have to fill in and date the document. You should make sure that you initial each page in addition to executing the signature page of the document. This does not have to be done by an attorney in order to be official.
Step #2 Making a Motion to the Family Court to Affirm the Divorce
Agreement as a binding judgment. The next step is to have the Family court turn your Divorce Agreement into a binding judgment for you and your spouse. This is done by submitting a formal request to the court (a “Motion” or a “ בקשה” in Hebrew) to set a court date. At the time that you submit the motion, you must pay the statutory fees to the court.
After the court has received the motion it will assign your “case” a docket number and will set a date for the actual hearing. You and your spouse must both appear in order to have your Divorce Agreement affirmed as a binding judgment.
Step #3 The Family Court Hearing
The Family court hearing is a relatively quick and painless proceeding and usually takes less than half an hour. It’s important to note however, that you may be waiting a long time for the case before yours to finish. So allow for at least two hours after that time your case has been scheduled.
This is what to expect when you get inside the court.
- The hearing takes place in front of a single judge and there is no jury.
- The hearing is done “behind closed doors” which means that nobody except the spouses and their legal representation are present.
- The judge will make sure that the Divorce Agreement isn’t violating any laws.
- The judge will ask each of the Parties (i.e. both of the spouses) questions regarding the Divorce Agreement to ensure that they understand what they have signed.
- The judge may make recommendations for minor amendments to the Divorce Agreement to make sure that points are not ambiguous. These changes will either be changed directly in the Divorce Agreement and signed to by the Parties or will be made via a printed court record – the hearing “Protocol”.
- At this point the Divorce Agreement is affirmed by the judge as a binding judgment and the hearing is over.
If you and your spouse both agree to only have the Rabbinic court handle all aspects of your divorce then you are free to opt out of appearing in front of the Family court, entirely. But whether you are a man or a woman, it is my personal recommendation that you do not skip the Family court. Although it will nominally cut down on both time and cost, there are a number of factors which I believe may cancel out the savings.
1) The Rabbinic court may not just “accept” your Divorce Agreement and may try to convince you or your spouse to reconcile – especially in the case of a first marriage and when children are involved. (Yes the Rabbinic court really is paternalistic.)
2) If for whatever reason (usually because you or your attorney didn’t set up the proper mechanisms in the Divorce Agreement) you do get into litigation in the future, you will be litigating in the Rabbinic court rather than the Family court. I have found the outcomes in the Rabbinic court to be less predictable and professional with regards to secondary divorce litigation. (i.e. Divorce Agreement enforcement).
Step #4 Getting the Divorce Agreement affirmed as a binding judgement in the Rabbinic court
The next step is to submit a motion to the Rabbinic court. This is to set a date for the Rabbinic court to affirm the judgment made by the Family court that the Divorce Agreement is binding.
If you have had the Divorce Agreement confirmed as a judgment by the Family court, then the motion must be submitted together with a certified copy of the Family court’s judgment affirming the Divorce Agreement.
Here too, at the time that you submit the motion, you must pay the statutory fees to the Rabbinic court.
After the Rabbinic court has received the motion, it will assign your “case” a court docket number and will set a date for the actual hearing. You and your spouse must both appear in order to have your Divorce Agreement affirmed as a binding judgment for divorce by the Rabbinic court.
Step #5 The Rabbinic Court Hearing
The Rabbinic court is generally a relatively quick and painless proceeding when you already have a Family court affirmed Divorce Agreement as a binding judgment. But if you haven’t been to the Family court first and you submit a motion directly to the Rabbinic court it can take much longer and may even not be affirmed right away. This hearing too, usually takes less than half an hour. Again, you may be waiting a much longer time for the case before yours to finish. So allow for at least three hours after your scheduled time.
- The hearing takes place behind closed doors in front of three Rabbinical court judges, “דיינים” in Hebrew.
- You and your spouse will each be required to bring a witness who knows you, your father and both his and your Hebrew names and any nicknames. (These will eventually be written into the GET)
- Just as in the Family court there is no jury.
- During the hearing the Rabbinical court judges make sure that the couple really wants to get divorced. This may include asking any number of personal questions.
- The judges will verify the identity of each side. This is when your witnesses will be called in.
- The judges may ask questions regarding the terms of the Divorce Agreement and the members of your immediate family.
At this point the Judgment from the Family court and/or the Divorce Agreement is affirmed by the Rabbinical court judges as a judgment for divorce, and the hearing is over.
Step #6 The Get Ceremony
The final step of the process is the divorce itself. The GET. This is sometimes performed directly after the hearing but usually an appointment is made to appear at a later date for the GET ceremony. This process usually takes a few hours, and involves going through a series of ceremonies as described in the Babylonian Talmud by which the husband grants and the wife accepts the writ of divorce. The ceremony has a number of stages.
Someone is appointed to write the writ of divorce (the GET). Witnesses are provided by the Rabbinic court to witness the giving of the GET by the husband and the accepting of the GET by the wife. (This is a precise procedure that you will be guided through.)There is a recommendation by the Rabbinical court regarding the wife being allowed to physically be with other men and timelines regarding pregnancy (I kid you not). When the ceremony is over, the Parties each receive a certificate of divorce after paying a statutory fee, and as far as the state of Israel is concerned, the couple is divorced.
The more you know about divorce proceedings in Israel, the better able you will be to get through this time and plan for a better future for yourself and your family.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Jay Hait Israel 077 200-8162 U.S. 201 696-3947 firstname.lastname@example.org