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A Jewish wedding ceremony that takes place in England and Wales will be legally recognised under the law in England and Wales provided that the requisite civil requirements have been met. These include the couple giving notice of marriage to the Register Office local to where the parties live at least 28 days prior to the marriage taking place, with both parties having been resident in England and Wales for seven days prior to giving notice, and the marriage occurring within 12 months of notice having been given. In this instance, no separate civil marriage ceremony will be necessary for the marriage to be legally binding.
Jewish divorce, however, is a little more complex, as it contains both a civil element and a religious one. The civil aspect is governed by UK law in the same way as it is for secular parties or those following other religions, with one party issuing divorce proceedings based on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Once negotiations over finances and arrangements for any children of the family have concluded, and Decree Absolute is pronounced, the marriage will be dissolved under UK law.
From a religious standpoint, the Ketubah – the formal marriage contract under Jewish law – can only be terminated by a Get, which is essentially a Jewish divorce. The Get will need to be written specifically for the divorcing parties in Aramaic, overseen by a Beth Din. The Beth Din’s role is to administer Jewish law and arbitrate in any civil disputes and any Get that is not conducted with the assistance of a Beth Din is unlikely to be recognised within the Jewish community.
The process involves the husband applying for a Get, which he then grants to his wife who must formally agree to the proceedings. Obtaining a Get is imperative in order to be considered truly divorced and be free to later remarry in a synagogue, and this applies to both husband and wife. Furthermore, without a Get either party would be considered Agun or Agunah – chained – who would be committing adultery were she to enter a new relationship even if a civil divorce had been granted.
Additionally, children born in a new marriage or relationship where a Get has not religiously dissolved the previous marriage may also be considered illegitimate, especially in Orthodox communities, with an associated impact on perceived social status and opportunities within the community, including being precluded from marrying under Jewish law. These impacts can be far-reaching as they may be passed on to a child’s descendants.
As such, divorcing couples who are Jewish should ensure they obtain a Get prior to Decree Absolute being pronounced. The Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 provides that either party can apply for Decree Absolute – the document which will sever the marriage under civil proceedings – to be withheld until a Get has been granted. Staying civil proceedings where there is a disagreement as to the terms of the Get provides some protection for both husband and wife as to the religious and social impacts of civil divorce without a Get, although the stay would need to be approved by the court and an order would only be made if the court was satisfied that it was reasonable and just to do so.
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles