On December 14, 2008, Judge Tova Sivan of the Tel Aviv Family Court accepted our petition for damages (700,000 NIS) in compensation for the pain and suffering that our client endured because her husband refused to give her a get. Justice Sivan rendered this decision despite the fact that the rabbinic court had not ordered the husband to divorce his wife. In fact, the rabbinic court had denied her request for such an order.
The woman was married in 1997. After only 3 months (!) of marriage, she ran away from her husband who had subjected her to severe physical violence. For the past 11 years (!), the parties have been in litigation in the rabbinic courts. Despite the long period of separation, and the harsh allegations that the wife has made against the husband, the rabbinic court did not order the husband to give a get, but has merely maintained that it was his "moral obligation" to do so (a mitvah).
CWJ argued before the Family Court that withholding the get is tantamount to the intentional infliction of emotional distress; prevents a woman from going forward with her life in a reasonable and orderly manner; is an unconscionable use of religious power; and is a severe infringement on our client's liberty.
The Hon. Tova Sivan rejected the defendant's defense that he should not be obligated to pay damages so long as there is no rabbinic order that he must give the get; and that should such damages be awarded, they would serve as the basis for invalidating the get under Jewish law (the invalid forced divorce-- get meuseh) . She held that the wife's damage claim is a tort irrespective of any rabbinic order, and without regard to the question of the 'forced divorce.'
This is the first time that the Family Court has awarded damages for get recalcitrance to a woman whose petition to order her husband to give her a get was denied. This decision is yet another example of how the legal discourse in the Israeli courts is changing; and is a clear statement from our civil courts that get refusal is a tortious act that Israeli society will not tolerate.