Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Divorce Bills In Maryland Legislature Would Help Jewish Women

Late last month and earlier this month, bills were introduced into the Maryland state House (HB 324) and Senate (SB 533) that are designed to assist Jewish women in obtaining a religious divorce (get) from a recalcitrant husband. Without a religious divorce, under Jewish law the wife is unable to remarry. The bills would require anyone filing a complaint for divorce or annulment with a civil court in Maryland to also file an affidavit stating that the person has taken all steps within his control to remove all religious barriers to remarriage by the other party. Courts will not be able to order a husband to grant his wife a get. However, the civil court will not be able to enter a divorce decree until the affidavit is filed.

The Feb. 2 edition of the Forward carried an article on the proposed legislation that is designed to deal with the problem of agunot-- women trapped by their husbands' intransigence. However, many question the constitutionality of the proposed law-- and of a similar one already on the books in New York (DRL Sec. 253). Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, said: "This is designed exclusively to deal with a religious problem, and it conditions a civil benefit-- a divorce-- on solving a religious problem. We don't think you can do that."

The Maryland Senate has scheduled its first hearing on the proposed legislation for Feb. 22.