An interministerial committee has been established to draw up a universally accepted document for a prenuptial agreement that would prevent spouses refusing to grant or accept a bill of divorce.

The committee was established after deliberations in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday on a government bill proposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, along with MKs Orly Levy-Abecassis and Gila Gamliel, to require marriage registrars to offer engaged couples the option of signing a prenuptial agreement.

According to Jewish law, a husband who grants a bill of divorce must do so willingly, and his wife must consent to the divorce, in order for the couple to be divorced.

However, in many instances the spouses will use this requirement as an instrument for extorting better terms in the divorce, usually the husband but in some cases the wife as well, and there are many hundreds of such cases every year.

The premise of the prenuptial agreements in question is that for every day a spouse refuses to grant the divorce, he (or she) will be obligated to pay money to the partner, in the hope the sums in question will be intolerably high to continue to refuse to complete the divorce.

The legislation, which was drawn up in cooperation with the women’s rights groups Mavoi Satum and Na’amat, would require marriage registrars at the local religious councils, where couples register for marriage, to offer a variety of prenuptial agreements, although they would not be obligated to sign such an agreement.

The bill was brought to the Ministerial Committee on Sunday, but the panel decided to ask relevant ministries and government bodies – including the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Authority for the Status of Women – and several academic experts to draw up a mutually approved prenuptial agreement.

The panel will have 60 days to create such a document. If, after that time, there is no agreed version for a prenuptial agreement, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will vote on the bill in its current format.

The main sticking point is over the acceptability of such documents in Jewish law.

Although several senior Orthodox rabbis and religious authorities, both in Israel and abroad, have ruled that they are permissible, some rabbis argue that such terms effectively force the spouses’ hand and constitutes a “coerced bill of divorce” which would invalidate the divorce in the eyes of Jewish law.

The committee’s job will be to come up with a format for the prenuptial agreement that satisfies the demands of the women’s divorce rights groups and also eases the concerns of the Chief Rabbinate and senior rabbinic opinion.

“This law comes to prevent the extortion and intransigence inherent in divorce proceedings in Israel, due to the fact that in order to get divorced the woman is dependent on her husband’s will to give the bill of divorce,” said Mavoi Satum director Batya Kehana Dror.

But Chief Rabbi David Lau criticized Livni, saying he had already initiated a discussion within the Chief Rabbinate, and the Justice Ministry was not the right forum for dealing with such matters.

Lau said that two weeks ago he had asked the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to discuss the issue of prenuptial agreements and the possible format of such a document, religious news website Srugim reported.

He said it was important for the council to deal with the issue, because it is the state rabbinical judges who will need to approve the implementation of the agreements.

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