Marriage Nullification Law: the Complete Guide for “Mixed” Couples
Sadly, divorce is a familiar reality for many families in Israel. We all know someone who has been divorced, and we may have even been divorced ourselves, and can state firsthand that it is not the most pleasant procedure, even if necessary. Sometimes the relationship ends, and there is no choice for the couple but to break up the marriage and move on with their separate lives.
Despite the desire to shorten and “standardize” the process as much as possible, many people in Israel discover that they cannot divorce in the “routine” way, but must undertake a slightly different route to end their union. In Israel, mixed-faith couples (who are registered in the Population Registry as members of different religious communities) must go through a “marriage nullification” procedure in order to end the shared chapter in their lives.
Most people undergoing a divorce strive to keep the procedure as short as possible — to proceed through each required stage with maximum efficiency, “check it off,” and move forward. Naturally, this is only possible with the assistance of professionals to make the job easier. Your allies in this process are family law attorneys, who will accompany you and legally represent you. In this article, attorney Anat Levi, of the Cohen, Decker, Pex and Brosh law offices, will explain the unique provisions of the Israeli Marriage Nullification Law, and how it applies to “mixed” couples.
Marriage across borders
In a world that has become a small global village, borders are not what they used to be. Many Israelis travel the world, meet partners with no connection to Israel (who are not Jews or Israeli citizens), formalize the relationship, and then sometimes later choose to end it. With distances meaning less and less, it is safe to assume that there will be more cases of “mixed marriages” in the future.
In addition, there are many people who made Aliyah to Israel and became citizens under the Law of Return, but whom Jewish law (halachah) does not recognize as Jewish. This issue becomes relevant when they want their marriage to be recognized in Israel, and it continues to be relevant if they they want to get divorced.
And, of course, there are relationships between Israeli citizens who do not belong to the same faith, an issue that affects both marriage and divorce, since matters of personal status are handled by religious authorities in Israel.
Marriage on Israeli territory – not between people of different communities
Marriage within Israel can only be performed between members of the same religion, in the official religious institution. Part of the consensus between the different faiths in Israel is that each has a certain monopoly on “personal law” (marriage, divorce, burial) regarding of the members of that faith. In return, they do not allow members of other faiths to participate in their ceremonies and (for instance) get married under the auspices of their religious institution.
Therefore, partners who are registered as members of different denominations in the Population Registry (or people who do not belong to any religion and therefore have no official religious institution) have to get married abroad. After the wedding is performed, and the marriage certificate is translated and presented to the Interior Ministry, the couple will generally be recognized as married. Some of these couples will live together until the end of their lives, and will not come up against any further complications.
However, the other side of the relationship, the separation, is also under the authority of the religious institutions. Even if the religion in question permits divorce (such as Judaism, but not Catholicism), divorce can only be carried out through the religious institution in which the marriage was performed. If the marriage was officiated abroad, it is not possible to get divorced within Israel’s borders.
However, the legislature found a solution for “mixed” couples who wish to separate. Divorce in such cases is possible, albeit via a procedure that is slightly different than the familiar one. The Marriage Nullification Law allows for a procedure roughly parallel to divorce, in cases where the standard divorce procedure is not an option.
What law applies to “mixed couples” who seek to divorce in Israel?
The Marriage Nullification Law is not widely known. For Jewish couples, the standard understanding is that divorce takes place in the rabbinical court. The rabbinical court is where the divorce is made official, it is the authority on the issue, and it is where the procedures eventually leading to a divorce certificate (get) take place.
Likewise for non-Jews, the divorce procedure is carried out through the relevant religious authority. So, for instance, when two Muslim Israeli citizens want to get divorced, they turn to the Sharia court, and so on.
But what happens when the partners do not belong to the same faith — for instance, when one of the partners is Christian, Muslim, a member of a different faith or belongs to no faith, and the other one is Jewish? This is where the Marriage Nullification Law comes in, enabling the divorce procedure to take place in Israel.
Israel may be a Jewish state, but many of its citizens and residents are not Jewish, and if they are married in “mixed” marriages, there must be an authority to rule on their case if they choose to divorce. There are many cases in which this law applies: if one of the partners was not able to prove that he or she is Jewish, and the other one is Jewish; when one of the partners is a foreign resident, and so on.
Marriage Nullification: what does it mean?
In the case of divorce of a mixed-faith couple, the Marriage Nullification Law defines the Family Court as the authority that formalizes the separation. This is the institution through which the divorce procedure is carried out, a kind of intermediate institution or mediator, when there is no single religion in whose institutions the divorce can be performed.
The family court is the body with the legal authority to carry out the divorce procedure and approve it at the end. This divorce authority differs from the standard one, but it was created specifically for such cases.
Just as in any divorce, you will need to select a family lawyer to represent your case in order to make the procedure go as well as possible. Naturally, the attorney must professional, experienced, reliable, and reputable, and no less important — must be someone you can trust and feel comfortable with.
As stated, this is not the “classic” divorce which many couples in Israel undergo. A family lawyer must be familiar with the Marriage Nullification Law, how its authority operates, and how to act correctly in order to represent your legal interests.
Nullifying a marriage – where does one start?
The process begins with an application for nullification of the marriage at the court closest to the home of the couple. This is the stage when a family lawyer enters the picture. The attorney will be glad to explain the process and represent the interests of the partner who wishes to get divorced.
Ultimately, the goal is the same as that of a “standard” rabbinical court as we know it: to legally end the civil marriage and grant the partners permission to move on with their lives and to marry other people if desired.
It is important to note that determining the partners’ religion is not always a simple matter – quite to the contrary. After the claim is submitted to the family court and the procedure begins, the vice president of the court will perform an inquiry with the leaders of the religious communities (that is, authorities comparable to a rabbinical court), in case it might turn out that the partners are in fact members of the same faith. In other words, the court must confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that marriage nullification is indeed the only available option.
In these situation, as in any other divorce procedure, a family lawyer will navigate the process. He or she will represent your case, keep everything in order and make sure the process is carried out with minimal delays.
Documents and translations
It should be noted that if the marriage itself took place outside of Israel, under the jurisdiction of a foreign country, documents such as the marriage certificate must undergo notary translation. In addition, other documents will likely be required from the country of origin of one of the partners, if he or she is not an Israeli citizen, for which translation of official documents will be needed. This translation, for purposes of a court case, is not the same as translating of “standard” documents by a regular translation company. The translator must have a legal background and be proficient in the laws of Israel and of the foreign country which issued the document, and in the end the document must bear a stamp to certify it as official, reliable, and approved.
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