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Religious Divorces and Getting a Get

TMZ reports that comedian Ralphie May's estranged wife, Lahna Turner, took a literal stab (with scissors) at destroying the pair's Ketubah, a traditional type of Jewish marriage contract.

Modern Ketubah are mostly symbolic religious documents that play a key role in Jewish marriage ceremonies. However, according to Jewish religious tradition, spouses cannot live together if their Ketubah is destroyed. Maybe Turner was trying to quickly cut ties with May and fast track their divorce?

While we cannot speculate as to Turner's true motivation for the destruction of this religious marriage document, there are a number of reasons people in religious marriages may consider doing the same. For example:

  1. If the religious tradition affected a religious divorce by the document's destruction;
  2. If the religious document, contract, or tradition prevented a spouse from remarrying under their religion's laws.

Many religions and cultures have their own traditions relating to marriage and divorce have spirit and cultural significance, but have no legal effect on a civil marriage or divorce. The reverse is also true as well; civil divorces or marriages may not be recognized by the religious institutions or cultural group one or both spouses belong to.

Clearly, given the nature of the purely religious and symbolic nature of the modern Ketubah and the fact that she filed for divorce back in October 2015, it's unlikely that Turner was actually expecting her actions to result in a legal divorce. But what if, hypothetically speaking, it was a religious tradition that destroying the Ketubah resulted in a divorce?

In Canada, a legal divorce requires a breakdown of marriage. Under the Divorce Act, there are only three ways to establish that requirement to obtain a divorce:

  1. The spouses have separated and have lived separate and apart for at least a year;
  2. One spouse has committed adultery; or
  3. One spouse has been mentally or physically abusive to the other and they can no longer live together.

Destroying her Ketubah would not automatically equate to a legal divorce in Ontario as the destruction of a religious marriage document fails to satisfy any of the three grounds. Thus, Turner may prefer to establish the first ground of living separate and apart for a year, given their estrangement. However, since Turner and May are of the Jewish faith, there may be religious barriers to remarriage that could affect their divorce proceedings.

Under Jewish religious law, a Jewish woman cannot remarry within her faith unless her Jewish husband grants her a Get, the Jewish form of divorce. This often leaves divorcing Jewish women in the predicament where they are legally divorced or divorcing, but remain married in the eyes of God and Synagogue. The woman cannot obtain the Get on her own as the husband must consent to giving it and participate in the Get giving ceremony.

If May were to refuse to give Turner a Get, in Ontario, Turner could seek relief from a court under section 21.1 the Divorce Act as part of the divorce proceedings. Section 21.1 of the Divorce Act requires the removal of any religious barriers to re-marriage before the civil divorce proceedings can be completed. Essentially, not giving the Get could stall the progress of resolving their legal divorce. For example, in Ontario, a religious barrier such as the Get can preclude the husband from receiving their property division entitlement until Get is given to the wife.

Fortunately, section 21.1 of the Divorce Act gives the court authority to make an Order that the husband must grant the wife a Get. In the event that May would deny Turner her Get, she would not be without legal recourse in Ontario.

Such Orders made by a civil court, however, may not impress the Rabbinical Court which administers the Get ceremony.

I myself am of the Jewish faith and as part of my divorce in Ontario, I consented to granting my ex-wife a get without having to be compelled by a court order.

When we went for the Get ceremony, I recall the Rabbinical Court asking me directly whether I was forced to be there by a civil court. I asked the Rabbinical Court what would have happened if I was forced to be there by a civil court. I was advised that if I had answered "yes", the Rabbis would have refused to go through with the ceremony and grant the Get.

Get getting can be serious business as there are different levels of orthodoxy and adherence to the traditions. For example, Gets from a conservative Synagogue may not be recognized by members of an Orthodox Synagogue. Depending on the wife's religious preferences and concerns while remarrying, divorcing Jewish spouses getting a Get may want to determine whether it should be conducted by an orthodox rabbinical court, conservative or reform.