From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
I was rooting for Seattle. I really wanted them to defeat New England in this year’s Super Bowl. I’m not sure why; there is just something I don’t like about that New England team. I do admit that the owner of the Patriots, Bob Kraft, is a most philanthropic gentleman, known to many in our circles for his good and noble work here and abroad.
I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would have put my money on New England. They always seem to find a way to make their opponent pay for a mistake and turn a lost opportunity by their opponent into points for themselves. As it turned out, it was the most-watched program in the history of television, or maybe just the most-watched Super Bowl. Either way, I enjoyed it, and now I mourn the end of the football season. Hope springs eternal, though, and the preseason for next fall is only six months away.
Now if I were a betting man, I never would have bet that the three female clients of mine who each received her get, Jewish bill of divorce, these last few weeks, would have received their gittin. The husbands were holding out—one for money, one for increased parenting time with the children, and one simply out of spite.
It is one of the most frustrating aspects of the divorce portion of my practice. In personal-injury cases, at least the pain inflicted upon the person I represent was inflicted by accident. In the divorce cases, the pain is most often delivered in a deliberate fashion.
Particularly frustrating are cases where the man is represented by attorneys who are known to be practicing Orthodox Jews and yet the anticipated cooperation in having their male client tender a get is lacking. This is not to suggest that the husband must give a get upon demand. To be sure, in some instances the withholding of a get is appropriate until other ancillary matters are resolved. According to Jewish law, a man is permitted to know what his financial obligations will be before tendering a get.
Also particularly frustrating are cases where a man signs a prenup obligating himself to give a get upon demand of the wife should the marriage fall apart, but then reneges on such a commitment. I have had such a case and found it particularly disappointing that said gentleman not only professed that he had not seen the prenup before (strangely, however, he acknowledged that said document bore his signature) but that his attorney, an Orthodox Jew, actively discouraged her client from giving the get.
One would expect better from our fellow tribesmen. These three recent cases, however, give me hope.
His mother was somewhat religious. His father was not. Dad did not want to give Mom a get. The son begged his father to release his mother from a trapped life. He explained to his father that if he did not give the get, Mom would never be able to remarry. The father was adamant. “Why should I give your mother a get? To me it means nothing and, besides, she tortured me for years.”
The son told his father that perhaps therapy could help him get past the “torture” he claimed to have suffered during the marriage. “But Dad, no amount of therapy or medicine or magic can unchain Mom if you don’t give her a get. You might not care to cause pain to her, but by hurting her you are hurting me.” The boy’s father relented and gave his wife her get.
Story number two happened not too long ago. After initially agreeing to give his wife a get, the husband, sporting a yarmulke and tzitzis, changed his mind as we stood in the hallway of the courthouse. I questioned his attorney, a nice Italian lawyer from Manhattan, what it was that his client wanted more than had already been negotiated. The answer startled me but didn’t surprise me; I have heard such demands before. “My client says he will give the get, but he wants $100,000 to do so.”
I told the attorney that no such payments would be forthcoming. The attorney replied, “I know. I told my client that as well. In fact I told him that while I would relay his demand to Mr. Seidemann, I will also walk out of this courthouse and no longer represent him.”
“I will not be part of your shakedown of your wife,” said the non-Jewish attorney to his Orthodox client.
Shocked by his non-Jewish attorney’s comments, the man relented and within days gave his wife her get.
Story number three is also of recent occurrence. Once again I represented the wife, and the husband, despite all issues concerning money, property, and the children having been resolved, still refused to commit to giving his wife a get. Upon hearing of the young man’s refusal, the judge called the attorneys and the parties to the bench.
“Young man, is it true that you are refusing to give your wife her religious divorce?” asked the judge. “Yes, sir,” was the man’s response.
“And why is that, sir?” asked the judge.
The young man replied, “The get law in New York provides that if the plaintiff desires a divorce he must remove all barriers to his wife’s remarriage. But I am the defendant, Your Honor. I am not bound by the requirements of the New York get law. I won’t give a get, and with all due respect, Your Honor, you can’t force me.” (Recent amendments to the domestic-relations law have dealt effectively with that apparent inequity.)
“Young man, I am wearing a black robe. The black robe demands certain behavior from me. You, sir, are wearing a black yarmulke, and while I am not Jewish, I assume wearing a yarmulke demands certain behavior from you. So let me make it clear, young man—you will be giving your wife a get.”
Right then and there, the man placed on the record, in open court, that he would voluntarily give his wife a get within 48 hours, and such was the case.
Football is much less stressful for the viewer, but most often not as rewarding.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.