Friday, March 15, 2019

A New Twist On Forcing A Party To Appear Before A Religious Court

A number of cases over the years have presented the issue of whether a civil court may order a Jewish husband to appear before a Jewish religious court to give his wife a Jewish divorce document ("get").  Kostiha v. Greenspan, (NJ App., March 14, 2019), presents a new twist on that line of cases.   In 2015, less than six months after they were married, Aaron Kostiha and Chaya Greenspan divorced and Aaron gave Chaya a get.  Two months later, Chaya gave birth to a child. Six months after that, a New York civil court annulled the parties' marriage. Several months later, after temporary custody was awarded to the mother, a dispute arose between the parties over parenting time.  In response to that, Aaron took steps to call into question the validity of the 2015 Jewish divorce.  He told a rabbi that he had continued to live with Chaya after the get.  The rabbi opined that this would constitute a remarriage under Jewish law and that another get would be required.

In March 2017 a Jewish religious court ordered Aaron to appear before it to issue a second get. and when he refused it held him in contempt. At that point Chaya filed suit in a New Jersey family court seeking an order requiring Aaron to appear before the Jewish religious court. The trial court issued the order and Aaron appealed. While that appeal was pending, Chaya informed the court that changed circumstances meant that she no longer needed Aaron to provide her with a get. This led the trial court to vacate all its prior orders relating to the issuance of a get, and the appellate court in this opinion held that any constitutional challenges to those orders are now moot.

However, the trial court had also ordered Aaron to pay Chaya's counsel fees for her motions to force Aaron to appear before a religious court.  The appellate court reversed that order, concluding, on the basis of conflicting case law which it discussed, that Aaron
had a good faith basis under the law for arguing that the trial court did not have authority to compel him to appear before a religious tribunal and comply with its divorce procedures.