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Orthodox Jewish law leads to complex high-asset divorce

When a marriage ends in Minnesota, an attorney can assist with what is called the "legal divorce," that is, ending your marriage in the eyes of the law. Some couples also choose to go through a "religious divorce," meaning they end their marriage according to the laws of their faith. As a recent case from another state shows us, the two types of divorce can encounter similar difficulties.

An Orthodox Jewish wedding recently received significant media attention after the couple's union became a symbol for complex divorce issues within the faith. Under Orthodox Jewish law, couples cannot receive a religious divorce until the husband gives the wife a "get," a document that ends the marriage.

Without the get, neither spouse is able to remarry under Jewish law. However, some husbands resist giving out the get as a means of negotiating or leveraging their divorce agreement. Fathers may refuse the get in an attempt to claim greater custody time. People in high-asset divorces may attempt to claim a greater share of the assets in the property division process.

This was the case for the man in the Orthodox Jewish wedding. The bride in the wedding was the man's second wife. The man had a legal divorce from his first wife nearly a decade ago, but he has refused the get ever since. As a result, he and his first wife never got a religious divorce. He was only able to get remarried by exploiting a religious loophole. His wedding was protested by dozens of protesters, who criticized his unwillingness to give his first wife a religious divorce.

The man once said he was unwilling to give his first wife a get unless she paid him a half a million dollars and gave him full custody of their son.

Though this is an extreme case, these same issues sometimes play out during legal divorce proceedings. Disagreements about child custody and the division of assets can sometimes lead to acrimonious situations in which one spouse attempts to force the other to make concessions. In the case of legal divorces, attorneys and judges can help keep the process moving forward, ensuring that the divorce ends with an equitable split.

Source: The New York Times, "Unwilling to Allow His Wife a Divorce, He Marries Another" Jennifer Medina, Mar. 21, 2014

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