Mediation and the Get/Martin Rosenfeld, JD

A recent post appeared by Attorney Morgan Leia Richardson at HuffPo regarding Mediation and the granting of a Get. The article is entitled “5 Ways That Divorce Mediation Can Help Resolve the Get Crisis”. While the article focuses on the Get, its message of the benefits of mediation is true for all situations. The five benefits are described as follows:

-Divorce mediation eliminates the need for courtroom drama and intrigue. Less publicity and less shame means that the parties have a greater chance of resolving their differences in a postive fashion.

-Mediation allows for creative solutions. An impasse is less likely to occur when discussion flows freely.

-Mediation levels the playing field so that the granting of a Get is less likely to be conteplated.

-Public shame that accompanies pressure to grant a Get sometimes has the opposite effect. The privacy that accompanies mediation makes posturing less likely to occur.

-Mediation offers an alternative setting from the high-pressured atmosphere of the Courts or the Beth Din.

The most convincing argument is probably that mediation offers the possibility of creative solutions. There are many ways to get to Win-Win. Unfortunately, the Court system allows for no such way. Mediation offers limitless possibilities. The article appears at


Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Beth Din, Divorce, Divorce Mediation, Jewish Divorce | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing for a Divorce Negotiation/Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld, JD

You have chosen to mediate, have a mediator and are now ready to negotiate. What do you need to do now? A recent blog appeared at Five of the suggestions will be outlined here.

1.Have a checklist of what you wish to discuss.
It is difficult to keep everything in mind during negotiation talks. Politicians have their prompters, speakers have notes, and parties to a divorce need a list of what they wish to discuss. The discussions can be personal, can be long, and can be trying. A list of items, and the order you wish for their discussion, is a helpful item to prepare.

2.Disclose all relevant information.
Parties often ask me how they will know if they are getting the right and truthful information from their spouse. I tell them two thins. Firstly, they are both adults and both know the meaning of “good faith”. People usually rise to the occasion in such situations. Secondly, an agreement based on faulty information can easily be rejected by a Court once the falsehoods are discovered. Honesty is the only policy here.

3.Be creative and flexible.
I am always taken aback by how creative parties can be when drafting an agreement. Keep an open mind and learn to listen as much as you talk.

4.Keep painful emotions out of the equation.
Both parties are likely suffering in the divorce process. There is no need to discuss how hurt you are unless there is a specific goal you can articulate. Check your emotions, as best you can, at the door.

5.Go through the house and see what you wish to claim as your property.
Property division in a divorce can be tough. Most parties, I find, do succeed in dividing their property by agreement. When this is not achievable, good mediation practice can get you over the hump.

Divorce is never easy. By being prepared, honest, and flexible you can minimize the trauma as you plan for your life’s next chapter.

Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Divorce Mediation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mandela and Forgiveness/ Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld, JD

Deroy Murdock wrote a piece on Nelson Mandela for National Review Online. He acknowledges a mistake in judgment. Mr. Murdock had rued the release of Mr. Mandela, from his 27-year imprisonment. Perhaps Mr. Mandela was yet another Fidel Castro in the offing. Such thoughts entered Mr. Murdock’s mind at that moment in history. Mr. Murdock now can state “I really blew it very, very, very badly.”

Mr. Mandela turned out to be one of the great moral leaders of the past century. When Mr. Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa, he sat his jailor (i.e. prison warden) in a prominent front seat. The act of forgiveness, though unspoken, was public and unmistakable. As Mr. Murdock describes it: “It also signaled black South Africans: Now is not the time for vengeance. Let’s show our former oppressors that we are greater than that and bigger people than they were to us.” Mr. Murdock further points to the act of conciliation shown by Mr. Mandela on the rugby fields attended by the native Springboks (and brought to prominence in the movie “Invictus).

Nelson Mandela recognized that a lack of forgiveness hurts all. That includes the victim himself. When it is time to move on, a continued insistence on recounting past hurts makes life quite burdensome and too challenging. If you were hurt, whether it be in business, marital matters, socially, etc. recognize what Mr. Mandela taught. If you must take revenge doing it by moving on and seeking new accomplishments. That is all that Mr. Mandela needed to start him on his way to becoming on of the most beloved statesmen in our time.

Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Divorce, Divorce Mediation, Marital Therapy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Book on Divorce/Rabbi Menachem Rosenfeld

I heard a radio program about a book and a documentary called “Divorce Corp”. The following is from their website. It may give some pause before they decide to litigate their divorce.

Joseph Sorge, director of the eye-opening documentary, Divorce Corp., now delivers a critical examination of the authoritarian culture underpinning the U.S. family court system and the collusive practices of its extended family of professionals. Relying on extensive research and interviews with the nation’s top divorce lawyers, mediators, judges, politicians, litigants and journalists, this expose reveals how and why children are torn from their homes, unlicensed custody evaluators extort money, and abusive judges play god with people’s lives while enriching their friends. Paradoxically, family law has become a growth industry, transferring over $50 billion a year from families in transition to a cadre of professionals, judges, and insiders, despite declines in both the marriage and divorce rates. Lawyers interviewed, such as Gloria Allred, say that one merely needs to “follow the money” to find out the reasons why people are being hurt and who is being helped by the system; and investors interviewed, such as Stacey Napp of Balanced Point Funding, reveal that some investment funds now essentially wager on the outcome of people’s divorce battles. Even Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife, Linda Bollea, claims that the battles have worn her down to the point of quitting, yet her lawyers continue to encourage her to keep Hulk in the ring. Written in an eminently conversational tone, as a collection of stories and interviews, this book makes one thing clear: everyone believes the system is broken. In search of a better way, interviews were conducted in another part of the world where divorce and the sharing of children, post-separation, are practiced in a more healthy and holistically manner.


  • Just as cancer patients must have informed consent before undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, anyone considering divorce should read Divorce Corp before hiring a lawyer. I will suggest Divorce Corp to my divorce clients and use it to teach divorce lawyers how to improve the quality of our legal services and increase empathy toward families going through the pain of divorce.”Forrest S. Mosten, Collaborative Attorney and Mediator, Certified Family Law Specialist, Board of Specialization, State Bar of California, Adjunct Professor of Law, UCLA
  • In the wake of the recession and foreclosure crisis, millions of families quietly suffered bankruptcy and financial reversals not because of bad loans, Wall Street, or big spending, but because they simply ended their marriages. Divorce Corp, the book, shines light on the quiet but deep financial pain that divorce creates for families, and reveals how poorly the family law system works to untangle these financial arrangements.”Professor Katherine Porter, University of California Irvine
Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Divorce, Divorce Mediation, Jewish Divorce | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Up is Hard to Do:A Get Should Never Be an Emotional Weapon/Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Saffran

(The following article by Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran appeared on the sites of Arutz7 and Voz Iz Neias.  It is written with both eloquence and sensitivity and is a frank, first-person  discussion of the role of a Get in the dissolution process. MR)

Breaking up is hard to do, but we must not have a situation where we marry as Bnai Torah and divorce like terrorists. A response to an issue making headlines in NY.

Getting married is easy – the joy, the grace, the dignity of the wedding day!  The beauty of the bride.  The nervous anticipation of the groom.  The proud and delightful parents.

Ending a marriage is hard, hurtful, painful.  There is sadness and shame.  Where there had once been joy and respect, there is now recrimination.  And questions.  Hard questions.  What had gone wrong?  Where should you go from here?

Marriage and divorce are not two sides of the same coin but polar opposites on the same spectrum.  Still, they have one thing in common.  In both, there must be respect and dignity.  We must embrace the same dignity and care at the end of a marriage just as we do at the beginning.  We must.  And yet, too often in the Orthodox community we do not.  Too often, we are seeing men withholding a Get as an emotional – and practical – cudgel which, in effect, enslaves a woman, damning her to a life that is neither here nor there, neither married nor able to move on with her life.

When our sages speak of God spending His days after creation arranging marriages, they are suggesting that each marriage, each good marriage, is ordained; is bashert.  Our sages were wise, but they were not blind.  They knew that not every marriage that is entered into is “meant to be”.  Marriages do not always work.

As much as a wedding is filled with joy hopefulness, a divorce often brings feelings of shame and failure.  Couples cannot help but feel that they “fell short”.  In our small communities and villages of long ago, and even in our modern shul communities, there is often a sense of shame in obtaining a Get.  And if there are children involved?  Well, there were practical matters.

In the past, rather than end an unhappy marriage, a couple – two strangers occupying the same house – often lived a lifetime of misery, imposing that misery on their children even as they tried, with uncertain results, to hide their feelings and behavior from their neighbors and friends.

Such an unhappy life is simply unacceptable in most, if not all, of the Orthodox world today.

Notice, at no point have I suggested a reason for the unhappiness of the unsuccessful marriage.  Whether because the husband was an insufficient provider or because of the stress of a difficult child or any other reason is immaterial.  It really does not matter what the reason is for the failure of a marriage.  What matters is only that, despite an honest attempt by at least one of the partners to make a successful marriage and life, the marriage is untenable.

It was not bashert.

That realization is a hard blow.  Sometimes the truth that a marriage is unsuccessful takes years to become clear.  Other times, it takes nearly no time for either the husband or wife to discover that the marriage will not work.  “Only three days into the marriage, I knew I had made a terrible mistake.” He is “controlling and belittling.”

We can all weep for the sadness of a marriage that simply does not work.  But our sadness necessarily turns to astonishment and then anger when we learn that the husband, far from acknowledging and accepting this reality, lashes out in anger and vindictiveness by withholding the Get.

Let us, as Chazal did, acknowledge that our belief in marriages as bashert is more ideal than truth.  In candor, let us confront the truth that many, many marriages are entered into with little preparation or understanding about even the most basic truths about living in intimacy with another person.

It is a rare young scholar who is schooled – in even the most cursory manner – in his bride’s emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical needs and priorities. And it is only a rare young woman who is taught to look beyond her groom’s learning or his ability to make a good living. It is a wonder that any marriage survives and succeeds!

Yet, most do. Some do not. There needn’t be any shame in that.

Chazal were well aware that a number of marriages would not be successful.  It is for that reason that Tractate Gittin [the laws of divorce] precedes tractate Kiddushin [the laws of marriage].  Just the order of the tractates alone tells us that we are best prepared for marriage when we prepare for a marriage not being successful.  Chazal teach that when that is the case there is a decent and considered way to dissolve the marriage without dissolving one another!

If the marriage does not work… let it come to an end in a way that allows both bride and groom, husband and wife, to grieve for what “could have been” but wasn’t and then allows them to go forward with a productive and meaningful life.  That is the process that Torah envisions by providing both the roadmap for marriage – the kesuba – and the mechanism for ending a marriage – the Get.

The Get is like God’s blessed fingers, untying the ribbon tied at marriage.  To use it to bludgeon the person for whom you once declared love and devotion is wrong. Is that the route a ben Torah should take?  Assuredly not!

And yet, in recent months and years, we hear more and more of the men – learned, yeshiva-taught men – who withhold Gitten from their wives; wives who have a God-given right to be released from their failed marriages.  It matters not one iota the names of the bride or groom, husband or wife or which prominent or prestigious family is involved.  What does matter is the harm being done to both man and woman by the withholding of a Get – and make no mistake, grievous harm is visited upon the one who withholds the Get as well as the poor woman who is not given one.

Worse, God’s name is desecrated. How have we allowed this situation come to pass?

How is it that our talmidim are so wonderfully schooled in Torah and yet kept so ignorant in basic human decency?  How is it that the same so-called ben Torah, who was so well-educated in yeshiva – and undoubtedly well-versed in the tractates Kiddushin and Gittin – who sat at the feet of rebbeim, who was surrounded by roshei yeshivas, who had his most distinguished Rosh Yeshiva serve as mesader kiddushin, who invited other Torah scholars to recite the sheva brachos, who celebrated seven days of sheva brachos with speeches extolling the beautiful Yiddishe home that would be established by this wonderful talmid, this young man “of whom we are all so proud…”, how is it that this same young man can be so quickly transformed into a beast simply because the marriage did not work out?

Saddened?  Hurt?  Disappointed?  Of course.  Such feelings are understandable.  But to be so vindictive as to punish his bride by withholding the Get?  No!  And not even just to make a point, not just to vent his hurt.  No.  No, even to withhold the Get for a month, two is wrong and damaging, but perhaps as some commentators have suggested, necessary to protect himself against false accusations and to ensure access to his children.  But we are seeing men withholding Gettin for three years, seven years, eighteen years!  A lifetime!

Such wrong-headed cruelty damns these agunot to a non-life.  It is a kind of death imposed with more cruelty and horror than any evil Haman ever visited upon our people.

How does a person allow such evil into his soul?  Where does such a person learn such hatred?  Not in yeshiva certainly.  Not in Kiddushin or Gittin.  Not in the Rishonim or Acharonim or any commentary.  So where?  By what authority does such a person determine such an act, a cold, hard, mean-spirited act that must be repeated almost consciously every hour, every day, every month and year that the Get is withheld?

The lesson was most certainly not learned from the words of our Talmud or our Sages.  Quite the opposite.  The Talmud (Kiddushin 50a) teaches that if a man refuses to give a woman a divorce, he is forced until he declares, “I am willing.”

The Talmud does not accept the notion that a husband can or should refuse to give a Get; if the marriage fails, it must be terminated.  Period.  No husband has the right to withhold the divorce contract.  If he does, the Talmud teaches, “he must be forced until he is willing.”

Now, let us be quick to protest that one inhumanity does not justify another.  By “forced” the Talmud is not condoning the crude and inhumane methods that we have heard about in the media recently.  These too are forbidden.

So then, what is meant by “forced”?  First and foremost, under no circumstances are the husband’s actions to be approved of – tacitly or overtly.  It must be made clear in every personal, professional and religious interaction that his behavior is wrong.  The community must speak with one voice to him, condemning his behavior.  He must be ostracized.  He must be cut off from the community.  He should suffer the same consequences as the cherem of old.

He must be forced “…until he is willing.”  But isn’t a “willingness” earned by duress considered null and void.  In most circumstances, yes.  But not in this instance.  Rambam teaches us the harsh truth of what we are dealing with in these situations.  “Because … he whose evil inclination induces him to … commit a transgression, and who is lashed until he does what he is obligated to do, or refrain from what he is forbidden to do, cannot be regarded as victim of duress; rather he has brought duress upon himself by submitting to his evil inclination.”

The person who withholds a Get is, by the Rambam’s reasoning, evil.  “…therefore, this man who refuses to divorce his wife…has only been overwhelmed by his evil inclination.”

He is not a ben Torah.  He is not a scholar. He is not a mensch.  No matter his pedigree.  No matter the wealth or position of his family or the yeshivot he attended.  He is simply a rasha.

Such evil harms not just the man’s own soul.  Such evil harms not just the wife seeking divorce.  Such evil harms not just the families involved.  Such evil stains an entire community.  It is a cancer that will rot the community from within.  It must be excised or the community will go the way of the man.

At its recent conference, the European Conference of Rabbis (CER) together with European Jewish Congress discussed not granting any religious services or membership in any of its European communities to all who are “mesarvei gitin” (refusing to grant a wife a Get).  Would that every community not only have this discussion, but decide to move forward with just such a decision.

There was a time, not so terribly long ago, when we naively thought it was enough to teach our young men how to get married, how to give and cherish the kesuba.  Now we know that isn’t enough.  Now we know that it is even more important to teach and learn how to divorce, how to respect and use the Get when it is needed.

I know it is hard to divorce, because I too have been divorced.  But when my then-wife asked me for a Get, I placed it in her hand within a week – and it took me that long only because I could not get an appointment with the Bais Din sooner.  I presented the Get as soon as it was clear that the marriage was over.  Period.

Of course there were still many issues to resolve and, indeed, many tough arguments yet to be had.  Many hurts still to be worked out.  But all that was to be dealt with after I had fulfilled my Torah obligation of handing my ex-wife a Get.

All the issues of divorce, the financial decisions, the personal decisions, the practical decisions came after the Get was delivered, as they should.  Which is not to say that it was emotionally easy.  Of course it wasn’t.  But to be a Jew is not to be dictated to by transitory emotion but by the moral and ethical dictates that God has given us, by living the life God expects you to lead, by proving to God, to your fellows and to yourself that despite all the pain, angst and doubts of divorce, you were, still are and will continue to be a mensch.  You are still a human being, created in the image of God.

You must behave as such. Good Jews have always behaved as such. Put down the cudgel.  Grant the Get.

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an author, educator, and communal worker.

Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Beth Din, Divorce, Divorce Mediation, Jewish Divorce | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Male and Female Roles/Rabbi Dr. Aton Holzer

(Although this discussion is technically not related to Agunah matters, the insights offered here might prove helpful to gaining self-awareness as a community into some of the dynamics at work. We thank Rabbi Dr. Holzer for his contribution. MR)

As a surgical (Mohs) dermatologist, I daily excise skin cancers from the face and other cosmetically sensitive areas and repair them, with, thank God, excellent results. Nonetheless, I adhere to that which is drilled into us by mentors in residency and fellowship — the critical importance of managing expectations. The patient who arrives for excision of an inch-long tumor on the central face needs to understand that human biology dictates that there will be a scar. Ultimately, the patients that are forewarned and accept the risks are quite happy when the scar is less visible than they imagined; those that are not will tend to think they could have done better with a different surgeon, regardless of how good the outcome. If their expectations remain unreasonable, I refer them to the plastic surgeon of their choice to close the wound (and pass off the headache!). There is a motto that goes something like “If you’ve warned them, it’s an expected effect; if you haven’t, it’s a complication;” the pre-op conversation has a huge impact on the tenor of the surgeon-patient relationship in the days and weeks following surgery.

I suspect that the same principles are broadly applicable. Forewarned is forearmed. Couples need to enter a marriage with an understanding of the normal difficulties that arise, so they are not later racked by doubt when they do inevitably come to call. Couples need to identify potential areas of conflict, and defuse them or commit to working on them beyond the wedding. Catholics, who don’t believe in divorce, have a strong interest in ensuring marital success, so premarital counseling and conversations to ensure compatibility are mandatory. We should require the same of our kids, who at a very tender age are asked to have the maturity and insight to choose a life partner; the counseling has the potential to manage expectations, align goals, and change the tenor of the marital relationship and minimize “scars.”

My grandfather, may he be well, a product of RIETS in the 40’s and 50’s, had a profound sense of appreciation of his wife, my grandmother. At every reasonable public opportunity, he would extol her in the most superlative terms. Unfortunately, you just don’t see this anymore. Most who knew Rav Soloveitchik speak of his boundless esteem for his wife Tonya, who he called “a woman of great courage, sublime dignity, total commitment, and uncompromising truthfulness.” The same with many other Gedolim of the previous generation — for example, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who, at his wife’s funeral, famously said: “Although it is customary to ask forgiveness from one who has died, I shall not do so. Throughout our entire marriage we never offended or hurt one another. We conducted our lives according to the Shulchan Aruch, and I have no reason to ask her forgiveness.”

Nevertheless, the observation has been made that nowadays, a strong background in Torah study does not necessarily prevent acrimony in divorce. Despite the example of previous generations, despite Hillel’s executive summary of the Torah as “what is hateful to you, do not do unto others,” years in Yeshiva do not appear to necessarily insulate against marital strife. Is there anything that can be done? I suspect that well before couples meet, the groundwork can be laid for a relationship of mutual respect.  Furthermore, communication skills can serve well during marriage and even post-marriage, should a divorce occur.

There is no question that the explosion of Yeshiva learning, in which thousands of Jewish men spend their days engrossed in Torah study, has led to the emergence of the most knowledgeable Torah community in Jewish history. The philosophy that drives the Yeshiva movement is that of the Nefesh HaChaim, the work of Rav Chaim of Volozhin that develops the idea that Torah study is the loftiest of Jewish values, and Torah scholars are the most exalted among human beings and the purpose of creation. This philosophy is addressed to the menfolk, and does not in itself provide meaning to the female in traditional Judaism beyond a functional, supportive existence; hence there is no good conceptual reason for a young married avreich to treat his wife in a manner that is in accordance with the Talmudic dictum (Bava Metzia 59a) that a husband is well advised to “love her as his own body and honor her more than his own body.”

As a contemporary thinker, Rav Soloveitchik left a wealth of writings. He has left a message behind that touches upon male and female relationships. His magnum opus is considered to be Halakhic Man, a description of the personality type of the Torah scholar which is often seen as the development of the inherent theme of Nefesh HaChaim. However, there is another work, the text of a eulogy that Rav Soloveitchik delivered for the Talne Rebbitzen, which he authorized for publication in his own lifetime, (something he did quite rarely) in which he develops a second, parallel personality type. He writes:

“People are mistaken in thinking that there is only one Massorah and one Massorah community; the community of the fathers. It is not true. We have two massorot, two traditions, two communities, two shalshalot ha-kabbalah — the massorah community of the fathers and that of the mothers… Father’s tradition is an intellectual-moral one… What kind of a Torah does the mother pass on? …[T]hat Judaism expresses itself not only in the formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. [My mother] taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life — to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive… The fathers taught generations how to observe the Shabbat; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbat and how to enjoy her twenty-four hour presence.” He proceeds to identify three aspects of the ‘Massoretic woman’ that were evident in the personality of the Talner Rebbitzen. (A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of Talne, Tradition 17:2 (Spring 1978) p. 76-77)

The Rav develops the theme in a manner that seems calculated to equate the respect to be accorded to the Jewish woman with his portrayal of Halakhic man. One of the most famous passages in Halakhic Man reads: “…The consciousness of Halakhic man, that master of the received tradition, embraces the entire company of the sages of the masorah. He lives in their midst, discusses and argues questions of Halakhah with them, delves into and analyzes fundamental halakhic principles in their company. All of them merge into one time experience. He walks alongside Maimonides, listens to R. Akiva, senses the presence of Abaye and Raba. He rejoices with them and shares in their sorrow… There can be no death and expiration among the company of the sages of tradition. Eternity and immortality reign here in unbounded fashion. Both past and future become, in such circumstances, ever-present realities.” (Halakhic Man, p. 120)

In this oft-overlooked essay, Rav Soloveitchik gives the Jewish woman who embraces the role of wife and mother a lofty status no less important than, and in every way parallel to, the Nefesh HaChaim’s ideal man, and thus a firm basis for mutual respect and admiration among the genders on the conceptual plane. Perhaps this essay should be required reading in our Yeshivos. It could well serve as a foundation for pre-marital training in today’s Orthodox world.

Rabbi Dr. Aton M. Holzer is a musmach of RIETS, and a physician, living in Miami Beach. He has authored essays on the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l.

Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Beth Din, Divorce, Divorce Mediation, Jewish Divorce | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Aftermath of Divorce/Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka

This is the fundamental principle of the aftermath protocol; that there is an ongoing connection between husband and wife, even without the presence of children. This is a connection which places upon the divorcing husband primarily, the obligation to at all times have compassion for his ex-wife, and to assure that she never sinks into poverty and despair. Husbands who have divorced their wives may wish the worst for their ex-partners, and would love to gloat over their total failure. But that cannot be the Jewish way, and should not be allowed to become the Jewish way.

If the divorcing couple were blessed with children during their marriage, then the divorce takes on an added dimension of ongoing connectedness, via the children. Like it or not, the husband and wife will thereby be involved with each other on an ongoing basis. They will hopefully discuss such matters as the children’s education, the children’s general welfare, their health, their summer camp schedule, the visitation procedures, and adjustments of the custodial arrangements when one or the other of the divorcing mates may have difficulty keeping to the usual pattern.

If compassion and understanding are the fundamental ethics of the post-divorce situation between the couple, then goodwill and cooperation should be the governing ethics of the husband and wife when it concerns the welfare of the children.

Guaranteed Delivery
Both husband and wife should be aware that whatever they tell their children will be relayed to the other spouse. It may not be done with precision, but the general tenor of the remarks made by one of the ex-mates about the other will find its way back to the original object of the remarks.

Thus, if a custodial mother complains about the fact that the visiting father is nasty, or does not really care about the child, or was always a rotten husband, her remarks will find their way back to the visiting father. One need not have a vivid imagination to picture what type of downside syndrome this will initiate.

The father who hears that he has been bad-mouthed by his ex-wife will most probably become furious at her (if he is not already). He might also at the same time launch a counter-attack, by badmouthing his ex-wife to his child or children. This negative rhetoric is also likely to follow in a reverse type of custody, with the father the custodial parent and the mother the visiting parent.

The child is inevitably dragged into this ongoing conflict, and may become the carrier pigeon for the invective, as well as the ultimate victim of the long-range missiles hurled by the ex-mates at each other. The ongoing ill-will between the former spouses may result in a renewed court challenge to the original arrangement. Or worse, it may result in the custodial parent shutting the door to the visiting parent, or in the visiting parent taking the child on a designated visiting weekend and disappearing to another locale, even another country. This is the tragic scenario that can result from ill-will, and the unsavory remarks made by the spouses about each other.

Relaying the Good
On the other hand, consider the scenario in which each one of the couple resolves to say only nice things about the ex-mate. This may be hard to swallow originally, at the onset of divorce, but the rewards are well worth it. Each one of the divorcing couple would probably be well advised to rehearse within himself or herself such statements as — you know that your father really loves you; or, I really appreciate the extraordinary steps your father is taking to make sure that he sees you as often as possible; or, you have a very caring mother; or, your mother is really going out of her way to do the best for you.

The more you rehearse these comments, the easier it will be to say them. The effect of these positive comments about your ex-mate can be of never-ending benefit. On the undeniable assumption that whatever you say about your former partner will be carried back to him or her, the nice comments that are made will engender a good feeling by the former spouse, who probably expects just the opposite.

The ex-mate who hears that nice things are said about him or her will in turn more likely say nice things about the other to the child. The child will then once again be a carrier pigeon, the carrier of good words, and will thereby be the elicitor of good feelings between the ex-spouses. Most importantly, the negative impact of divorce on the children may thereby be checked.

The cooperative spirit this can establish will be of benefit not only to the child, but also to the divorcing couple. They will remove the agenda of bitterness from each other, and get on with life in a positive way.

Anger Self-Destructive
No matter how much one may deny it, by being bitter towards the other and ventilating one’s anger at the other, one does not thereby get rid of it. One is actually rehearsing that anger within the self. The anger will remain, and quite likely intensify.

The biblical advice, to “eliminate anger from your heart” (Ecclesiastes, 11:10), is most appropriate to a divorcing couple. For it is they who are more likely to have anger in their heart, and therefore it is they who must remove it. With bitterness in the heart, one is not likely to find peace of mind.

The biblical phrase, “and eliminate anger from your heart,” is followed by the words, “and remove evil from your flesh.” Indeed, by eliminating anger, you remove evil from your flesh. “Your flesh” may refer to one’s own flesh, or to one’s spouse, who once and always is as one’s flesh. By taking away anger, one removes the potential for a harmful post-divorce relationship.

Maintaining anger will also stand in the way of the embittered spouse linking with another partner. No individual would like to become entangled with a partner who, however attractive as a potential mate, is full of anger, hostility, and bitterness. That is sure to cloud any future relationship, or more probably, forestall the possibility of such a relationship ever developing.

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka is a pulpit rabbi, author and lecturer. He has written extensively on the issue of Jewish divorce.

Posted in Agunah, Agunah Project, Beth Din, Divorce Mediation, Marital Therapy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment