Saturday, October 05, 2019

Court Refuses To Enforce Jewish Marriage Contract Provision

In Tilsen v. Benson, 2019 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2475 (CT Super. Ct., Sept. 11, 2019), a Connecticut trial court opinion that has just become available on LEXIS, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that it could constitutionally apply neutral principles of law to enforce a provision in a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) as if it were a pre-nuptial agreement. According to the court, the ketubah provided that any divorce would be "according to Torah law."  The husband argued that this means there should be a 50/50 division of property with no obligation for continuing alimony payments. In denying plaintiff's motion to enforce the ketubah, the court said in part:
To educate the court about the parties' chosen law, the plaintiff submitted the affidavit of a rabbi ... describing his understanding of Torah law as it pertains to alimony and property division. The defendant also submitted the affidavit of a rabbi. However, the defendant's rabbinical expert disagrees with the plaintiff's rabbinical expert.
It is clear, then, that enforcement of the "Torah law" provision in the Ketubah would require the court to choose between competing interpretations of Jewish law. But resolving such a dispute is precisely what the neutral principles approach forbids a court to do. The first amendment does not permit courts to resolve disputes over the meaning and interpretation of the Torah-or the Koran, the New Testament or any other religious text....