Long arm of rabbinical court reaches LA

When an expatriate couple in the US divorces, can a Haifa rabbinical court trump an LA civilian court?

Rabbinic court 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Rabbinic court 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
She's an Israeli with US permanent residency rights. He has both US and Israeli citizenship. They were married in Israel, but now they live in Los Angeles. Their four-year-old daughter was born in California, but they both have strong family ties to Israel. Now they want to get divorced. She filed in Los Angeles, he filed with a rabbinical court in Haifa. Who will hear the case? In a not-atypical yordim (Israeli expatriates) story gone sour, the Haifa Rabbinical Court ruled that the case was squarely in their jurisdiction, despite the fact that the claimants are both still living in Southern California. "In this era of growing globalization," argued the rabbinical court, quoting the Israeli Supreme Court, "there is less relevance to the question of location." In the 21st century, people, including Israelis, wander more, the Haifa rabbis said. Distance is no longer such a barrier to collecting information or to determining jurisdiction. The rabbinical court did not deny that the US legal system was "an enlightened and just adjudicator." Nevertheless, the couple seemed to have more ties to Israel than to California, the court said. True, in October 2002, four months after they married, the couple gave up their jobs, sold their cars, transferred their residence to Los Angeles and stopped filing with the National Insurance Institute. However, the husband worked for an Israeli subsidiary. When their daughter was born in February 2004, the mother and father gave her an Israeli name. Also, the two never managed to accrue many assets in LA, renting an apartment instead of buying. In addition, the wife began divorce proceedings in LA one day before her husband began them in Haifa. According to Israeli law, that means the financial and child custody issues should be adjudicated in LA. However, the LA divorce court has not yet begun proceedings. In the meantime, the Haifa court has claimed the case as its own. According to Rabbinical Courts Legal Adviser Shimon Ya'acobi, more and more international divorce cases are coming before the courts. Recently an Israeli rabbinical court ruled that it could hear a case by a couple from the Caribbean even though neither partner was an Israeli citizen, and a Tel Aviv rabbinical court is about to rule on a couple married in Israel but now living in Britain. However, courts do not always accept jurisdiction over international cases. For instance, a rabbinical court recently rejected the request of a man living in New York who wanted to have his divorce suit heard in Israel. "People are definitely more mobile these days," said Ya'acobi. "This makes it more of a challenge for rabbinical courts to determine when they should and should not hear a case." But, he added, "in the case of the Los Angeles couple, it was clear that we had the right to adjudicate."