When we mediate divorce cases, we focus most of our time on the classic issues of marital property, support, and parenting. For many couples, however, there is also the issue of a religious divorce. Jewish couples may ultimately want to obtain a Jewish divorce or “Get” and Catholic couples, usually without children, may want to obtain a Church Annulment. The main reason for obtaining a Get or Church Annulment is so that either party may remarry in a religious ceremony. As mediators, we facilitate discussion about the issues of religious divorce, provide information and resources about Gets and Church Annulments to those who request it, help the couple reach resolution, .and include what the couple decides in the Mediation Agreement. It is easier to do this when the couple obtains their civil divorce and the parties are implementing the other aspects of their divorce. Later, the couple may be geographically separated or not as willing to work on the issue for a variety of reasons.
The process, but not the court, are very similar for obtaining a Get and an Church Annulment. The religious divorce process is very similar to the spirit of mediation.
A Get is actually a writ of divorce. A Get is required when a Jewish couple wishes to religiously dissolve their marriage. A Get is not required when only one spouse is Jewish. The Husband asks a trained scribe to write the Get. The Husband gives the Wife the Get in the presence of a rabbinical tribunal (Beth Din) of three individuals and two witnesses. The Wife’s acceptance of the Get makes the divorce final. It is not an adversary procedure. The Get makes no reference to responsibility, fault, or details of the settlement. The Rabbi issues a certificate of proof (p’tur) attesting to the fact that a Get was properly drawn up, delivered and accepted. (continued page 2) In order to obtain an Church Annulment, the couple must demonstrate that factors necessary for a valid marriage did not exist.
These include three criteria: (1) A defect of canonical form such as being married by a justice of the peace or Protestant minister without getting permission from a Bishop. (2) An impediment such as being under age or marrying someone who was previously married whose marriage was not annulled. (3) The lack of consent due to mental illness, abuse of alcohol or drugs or physical abuse. The party or parties petition for the Church Annulment saying the marriage is invalid. Consistent with mediation, the parties do not seek to blame each other. The religious tribunal seeks information which confirms the statements of the petitioners. If the decision is in favor of Church Annulment, it must be reviewed by another tribunal of at least three judges. If the second court agrees, a decree of nullity is issued and both parties are free to re-marry in the Church.
The Mediation Agreement should include language that the parties will not contest, but will cooperate, in obtaining the Church Annulment or the Get, and in providing the information required to file for the Church Annulment or Get. The Mediation Agreement should include a reasonable time within which the Church Annulment or Get will be obtained. There should not be a penalty clause in the Mediation Agreement for lack of cooperation in obtaining the Get, as the process must be voluntary.