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Divorce case highlights intersection of law and religion

As this blog has occasionally noted in prior posts, there is no such thing as a "typical" divorce. Every divorce negotiation and settlement is decidedly singular, with the considerations that most occupy a divorcing couple being uniquely their own.

In some divorces, for instance, child custody, visitation and support are centrally important agenda items, while in other dissolutions they are irrelevant. Property division might be at the core of negotiations in one settlement, while essentially being a non-factor in another.

A high-profile case from Washington, D.C., is presently serving as a catalyst to demonstrate how particular divorce matters can be rendered extremely complex and multilayered by culture-specific factors centered on religion and tradition. In the United States, with its nearly unparalleled diversity, such a case stands more as a growing reality than an anomaly.

The case involves the 2010 divorce of a congressional aide and his wife. Notwithstanding the couple's civil divorce, the man, who is an Orthodox Jew, has steadfastly refused to grant his former spouse a "get," which is a Hebrew document that legally confirms their changed marital status under Jewish law.

As a result, she cannot remarry, even though legally divorced in the United States.

The case is drawing strong attention from the Jewish community in the District of Columbia, with most observers sharply criticizing the congressional staffer. One rabbi has termed the man's refusal to free his former partner from "chained woman" status as "a form of domestic abuse," and a document issued by a local rabbinical council has excommunicated him.

The controversy has also extended to the office of Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), who is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the aide's employer. Camp is facing strong pressure to fire the staffer.

Source: Jerusalem Post, "Outrage at U.S. Congress staffer over 'get' refusal," Sam Sokol, Feb. 27, 2013

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