Civil Divorce should be for the civil courts

The proposed bill by MKs Zahava Gal-On and Merav Michaeli on the subject of permitting civil divorce was discussed and voted down several days ago by the Ministerial Committee on Legislative Matters. The bill was based on the premise that the Court for Family Affairs would have the authority to discuss the marriage permit of a couple with the same religion who had chosen to marry in a civil wedding abroad. The current legal situation does not allow this

Today, a Jewish couple that decides to travel overseas to get married in a civil wedding are subject to the jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Court in all matters of divorce, even though they chose not to get married by the rabbinical establishment in Israel.

The bill seeking to change the situation in these affairs and allow such couples who married abroad to have their marriage sanctioned by the Court for Family Affairs a civil court. It is important to know that the authority to sanction the marriage of same sex couples who married abroad in a civil wedding has been granted to the court for Family Affairs because the Rabbinical Court ruled that it is not within the scope of its authority. If so then this is clear discrimination between same sex couples and heterosexual couples on everything regarding matters sanctioning their marriage.

MKs Gal-On and Michaeli think that stress should be placed on human rights on everything regarding freedom of religion and conscience and that there is no point in forcing the authority of the Rabbinical Court in discussing the divorce of couples who were married in a civil ceremony overseas. It was also proposed as part of the bill that the Rabbinical Court would be given sole authority to discuss marriage and divorce matters only if the wedding was conducted according to religious law.

As known, in the State of Israel civil marriage has not yet been recognized and anyone who desires to get married in Israel and register as married at the interior Ministry must get married in a religious wedding. There are those who think that forcing religious marriage on the State's citizens is a terrible thing and it is even worse that religious divorce is forced upon those who choose to get married in a civil ceremony abroad.

Will subjecting the couple that married in a civil ceremony abroad to the authority of the Rabbinical Court in Israel result in the unnecessary perpetuation of legal procedures and create an opening for extortion by one of the parties of the other? It is important to remember that in many cases divorce proceedings are conducted simultaneously between couples in two courts. There is no doubt that the situation leads to protracted conduct of a case, duplication of discussions, high court costs and major suffering by all those involved in the matter.

It would seem that granting the possibility of a choice to the appropriate court would be the correct thing. The matter requires a change in legislation that would allow turning to the Rabbinical Court in divorce proceedings or alternatively to civil proceedings in the Court for Family affairs. In that way it would be possible to prevent the Rabbinical Court from forcing its authority on the divorce matters of those who chose to get married in civil ceremony rather than according to religious law.

The author is the Founder of Matat Plesner Law Firm.

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