Thursday, January 13, 2011

And the Winner Is . . . . .

“Litigation ... merely continues conflict and offends nature; it does not heal.”
 – Confucius

In a recent NY Times article, entitled “Religious Divorce Dispute leads to Secular Protest” Mark Oppenheimer describes how a recently divorced Jewish man, Aharon Friedman, who serves as tax counsel for the Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, has become the subject of scrutiny and rallies due to his alleged refusal to give a Jewish religious divorce, called a “GET” to his ex-wife. At the center of the parties’ litigious dispute is their 3 year old daughter and a custody court order, which, according to Mr. Friedman, deprives him from spending quality time with his child.

Historically, the “GET” issue has been a tough one. An observant Jewish woman cannot remarry within the faith without a religious divorce, which can only be given to her by her husband. In recent decades various groups have emerged to help women ensure that their husbands do not withhold the “GET” for strategic reasons. (This is why in a New York State divorce proceeding, a litigant must actually swear that he/she will remove all barriers to the other person’s remarriage before a Judge would grant a divorce). According to Mr. Oppenheimer some of these groups have been actively trying to help Tamar Epstein get a religious divorce from Mr. Friedman.

According to the article, the mother accuses the father of “psychological terrorism” and the father is angry about the “religiously insensitive” custody order, which starts his visits with the child after sundown on Fridays, making it impossible for him, as an observant Jew, to exercise visitation until Sunday.

The article goes on to describe the details of the litigious process that the family has undergone both in the religious Jewish court, “Beit Din” and in Maryland Civil Court. Yet the most important issue is not addressed at all. Who wins? The real result of all this is a sad one. Instead of moving on with their lives and effectively co-parenting their daughter, these parents continue to be enmeshed in hostility and conflict.

If this couple has had the opportunity to meet with an experienced mediator early in this process, perhaps much of this could have been avoided. The parties could have negotiated a parenting plan, which would be uniquely tailored to fit their needs, religious observances and sensitivities. The Wife would have received the “GET” and through the mediation process maybe this couple would have learned to communicate as partners in child rearing of their daughter, whom they both undoubtedly adore.

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