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Dissolution of a marriage in Israel

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

How to separate in Israel without a religious divorce ceremony?

Dissolution of a marriage is the equivalent procedure to a divorce for married Israeli couples who are from different religious affiliations. Our law firm most often handles dissolution requests from couples who were married abroad, with one spouse being a Jewish-Israeli, and the other a member of another religion. These marriages generally cannot be resolved via a religious divorce, unlike most marriages held in Israel by the religious authorities. However, if the couple is not of the same religion, or one of them is “non-religious”, or if the couple is of the same sex – the marriage can not take place within Israel. The State of Israel acknowledges marriages that were legally conducted outside of Israel, and allows married couples to dissolve such a marriage even if a religious institution is unable to do so. Dissolution of marriage applies to spouses who are members of different religions, same-sex couples, and other types of marriages that could only take place outside of Israel. This article by Advocate Joshua Pex, an Israeli lawyer, will explain the process of dissolution of a marriage at the Israeli Family Court.

Who needs to undertake a dissolution of a marriage procedure instead of a divorce?

dissolution of a marriage between spouses of different faithsThe State of Israel has no institution of civil marriage. An Israeli resident who wishes to marry within the borders of Israel may enter into marriage only via a religious ceremony. The spouses must apply to the official institution of the religion to which they belong (for example, a Jew must apply to the rabbinate) in order to enter into a marriage. Every religious institution in Israel has its own rules regarding marriage ceremonies. The general rule in Israel is that only members of the same religion can marry in a religious institution. A Jew can marry only a Jewish woman, a Christian can only marry a Christian, and likewise for every officially recognized religion in Israel. Residents of Israel who are registered as non-religious do not have an official religious institution, and therefore can not marry within Israel. The situation of members of religious communities who are not recognized in Israel is the same (except for various denominations of Christianity, which are considered to be the same overall community despite not being recognized individually). In addition, same-sex couples can not marry within Israel, regardless of the couple’s religion.

Israeli citizens can officially apply for a request to change their religious affiliation. But the process of changing ones religion is difficult. First of all the person must convert to a different religion, or register as non religious. Secondly, there is a registration process at the Ministry of Interior. However, the State of Israel, like most countries in the world, recognizes legally conducted marriages made outside the borders of Israel. Jewish immigrants to Israel receive official recognition of their non-Jewish spouses and children, even if the marriage could not have taken place in Israel. Israeli residents can travel abroad to marry (for example, to Cyprus) or have a marriage ceremony in the presence of only one spouse (in Paraguay) or without either spouse being present (in El Salvador) and the marriage will be recognized by the state of Israel.

Dissolution of a marriage between spouses from different religious denominations, spouses who are registered as religionless or are of the same sex, is arranged by appealing to the Family Court.

What are the necessary conditions for the dissolution of a marriage?

Dissolution of a marriage in Israel is conducted in accordance with the Jurisdiction in Matters of Permission to Marriage (Special Cases and International Authority) Law, 1969. In order for the Family Court to agree that the marriage permit is within its jurisdiction, and not to the jurisdiction of a routine divorce procedure by a religious institution in Israel or another institution abroad, the couple must prove that:

1. The spouses are citizens of Israel who reside within its borders. If the couple’s main residence or recent residence is outside of Israel, they must show that they could not divorce when abroad.

2. The couple is of different religious denominations, or one of the spouses has no religious affiliation. A summary of the couple’s population registry, in which they are registered as members of different religious affiliations (or as religionless) is required, but insufficient in itself. For members of recognized religious communities, a document must be provided, with an official authority confirming that the spouse belongs to the community in question. For Catholics, for example, a baptismal table must be included among the documents submitted. For a person who is not affiliated with a religion or a denomination that is recognized within Israel, an affidavit should be submitted by a person who knows that spouse, is not related to the spouse by blood, and who attests that they maintain a lifestyle and modes of worship in accordance with the customs and traditions of the community. Alternatively, for a spouse registered as devoid of religion, an affidavit must be brought from a person who knows that the spouse is an atheist or unaffiliated with any religion.

3. The spouses are married to each other and wish to dissolve the marriage. A marriage certificate and an affidavit from each spouse regarding intent to dissolve the marriage is required. If the certificate is in a foreign language, it must be translated into Hebrew and authenticated by an Israeli notary or a notary abroad with an Apostille stamp.

4. The petition for the dissolution of a marriage must be submitted in five copies to the family court. Please note that  Form 43A filled by each spouse individually must be attached to the petition.

5. Relevant details to the court petition include the couple’s personal information – ID number / passport, last common residence address, date of termination of the relationship, and the religion of the parents of each spouse.

6. Court fees (as of February 2018): NIS 477.

7. For the most part, there is no need to hold a court hearing on the dissolution of the the marriage, provided both spouses consent.

After proving that the dissolution procedure is necessary:

The Israeli Family Court judge is still required to appeal to the heads of the religious community to which each spouse belongs, in order to determine whether there is a need for a religious divorce process in addition to a court-mandated dissolution of a marriage. The answer should be received within three months from the date of application. For the most part, a rabbinical court (for example) does not have the jurisdiction or ability to arrange a divorce when the marriage was conducted contrary to Judaic (for example) law. However, each case is decided based on its merits.

If there is a need to arrange for issues of child custody, visiting arrangements, alimony, division of property, etc., a separate petition must be submitted for approval of the divorce agreement. This procedure is also conducted in the Family Court and not in a religious court – even if it was determined that there is a need for a religious divorce process in addition to the dissolution of marriage. The procedure for arranging divorce details requires a court hearing.

Our law firm specializes in issues of immigration to Israel and dissolution of marriages. Contact our offices in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem for information and legal assistance.


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