Mavoi Satum, the Jerusalem NGO dedicated to combating abuse and blackmail surrounding divorce, introduced a pre and post-nuptial “mutual respect” contract in a ceremony Sunday night.
Twenty-five married couples attended the ceremony and signed the contract, promising to look after each other’s interests even beyond their marriage if necessary. They did so in the interest of drawing public attention and setting an example for their children and neighbors.
The contract was drafted by Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl of Kfar Etzion, Rabbi David Ben Zazon of Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, and Dr. Rachel Levmore, a legal advocate in the rabbinic court system.
Should a couple who signed the contract wish to divorce, they present it to a family court, whose ruling on its legality is then registered with the rabbinical court, and the get, or religious divorce, must be granted without further delay.
The contract, says Batya Kahane-Dor, executive director of Mavoi satum, is a “positive value” to bring into a happy marriage.
“By signing the agreement,” she said, “a couple is telling each other how much they love each other and that they don’t want, should their circumstances ever change – as inconceivable as it may be – to reach a situation in which one might come to try to keep the other tied to them and, in a sense, jailed.”
Kahane-Dor explained that she had helped draft a Knesset bill requiring every couple to sign such an agreement, but Orthodox parties were against it.
“What we did... was not wait for rabbis and the Knesset; we took things into our own hands,” she said.
If a signatory to the mutual respect contract takes longer than six months to agree to a divorce, the injured party informs Mavoi Satum. By 180 days – eight months – if the get has not been received, the contract imposes a monthly financial penalty of $1,500 or half a salary, whichever is greater, to be paid to the one awaiting marital freedom, whether it is the man or the woman.
“If one party wants to try and salvage the marriage,” says Mavoi Satum board member Kylie Eisman-Lifschitz, “they can request couple counseling, and that will extend the period for another 90 days. This is meant to give due weight to the value and institution of marriage without tying one party unfairly in a marriage that is miserable.”
There are 17,000 divorce files open today at the rabbinate, according to Kahane-Dror. Five percent, or 3,400, involve women who are having problems getting a divorce.
Two hundred new files are opened each year at Mavoi Satum. Most of the situations can be remedied by support, therapy, educational or empowerment programs provided by the organization. The most serious cases number 50 to 60 annually, in which disappearances, violence and the like are involved.
This past year, Mavoi Satum was able to facilitate 15 gets, some of them for women who had been denied a divorce for 10-17 years.