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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Certification of Your Divorce Agreement

The first steps of the proceedings in bet din will be the certification of the divorce agreement reached with your spouse (and submitted to the bet din registrar when you filed for divorce), and the bet din’s certifying your divorce. Generally, only you, your spouse and your respective legal counselors will be permitted to attend this hearing --not your escorts. The most senior of the three judges, the ‘av bet din’, will preside over the hearing, and generally he will ask most of the questions. Keep in mind that unlike certification of divorce agreements in family court that is made by a single judge, the certification of the agreement in a bet din is binding only if three judges were present at the hearing. Unless, at the outset, both parties expressly waived their rights to the presence of three judges, having only one or two judges in the courtroom is grounds for invalidating the divorce in the future.

This hearing will probably be the first time the bet din will have met the couple. Prior to the deliberating over the agreement itself, therefore, the bet din may first ask about the decision to divorce in the first place. The bet din may require you to provide proof of claims you make, in the form of documents or witnesses. If the bet din gets the impression that it may be possible to restore domestic harmony ("shalom bayit"), they may postpone its decision to a later date. In the past, it was standard practice for the bet din to send the couple back to attempt shalom bayit. Nowadays, however, if the bet din sees that both sides are resolute in their decision to divorce, they rarely delay the proceedings, and proceed direclty with certification of the divorce agreement.

In the judiciary proceedings over the agreement certification, the bet din will need to be convinced that both of you signed the agreement of your own free will and with full comprehension of its consequences, and that your agreement was not the product of pressure or coercion. If the court forms the impression that the agreement does not reflect your wishes at the time of the signing, or even if one of you changes your mind at the time of the certification, and retracts consent to previous agreements – the judge will not be able to certify the agreement, and it will be impossible to proceed with the divorce process. In addition to both sides’ actual consent, the bet din examines the details of the agreement itself, and verifies that there is no clause that invalidates the agreement. Thus, for example, if the agreement includes a clause obligating one of the partners to get divorced or establishing a steep monetary penalty if one of them refuses to grant or accept a get, the bet din will not be able to certify the agreement, until this clause is removed. This is due to the importance of the couple’s autonomy in their decision to get divorced, without which, the get becomes a get me’useh, a get obtained by force, and not by choice and free will. Such a get is not legally binding and does not terminate a marriage.

If the bet din is convinced of your desire to get divorced, and approves the clauses of your agreement, it will confirm that you have stopped living together intimately, and that you no longer live in the same house, and then certify the agreement, conferring upon it the legal validity of a judicial ruling. You will then exit the court room and go to the registrar’s office to set a date for the arranging of the get.

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