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NY Judge Rejects Traditional Jewish Divorce Decree


After deciding to end a marriage, many Americans choose to work with a divorce lawyer, largely because of the complex legal considerations involved in the divorce process. A recent decision from one of New York's Supreme Court Justices illustrates the key role divorce laws and regulations play in New York divorces.

In Judaism, divorce is enacted when one spouse presents the other with a "get," or divorce decree. The rules governing the get are specific and must be followed in order for a couple to be divorced in the eyes of Jewish law. But, as some couples are learning, the requirements for divorce under U.S. law are somewhat different.

According to Law.com, the Tsirlins were married in Jerusalem in 1995 and came to the United States in 2003. Shortly after their arrival, a Brooklyn rabbi reportedly issued a get; in 2005, the Israeli court granted the couple a divorce based on the rabbi's decree. Under Jewish law, the Tsirlins were no longer married.

Sources indicate that in 2006, Mr. Tsirlin initiated divorce action in U.S. courts, seeking joint custody and child support of the couple's child. Ms. Tsirlin, it seems, contested her ex-husband's motion on grounds of comity - in other words, she insisted that the terms of the divorce set out by the Israeli court should be recognized by the U.S. legal system.

But the New York Justice who heard the Tsirlins' case interpreted the divorce ruling differently.

In fact, Justice Jeffery S. Sunshine apparently ruled that the get, or the basis for the divorce, did not constitute valid grounds for divorce under New York divorce law, and therefore the divorce itself was void. In his opinion, Justice Sunshine explained that, had he allowed the get to stand in New York court, it would have effectively circumvented state law, which allows only the Supreme Court to grant civil divorces.

Specifically, Sunshine evidently noted that accepting the get would be a violation of New York's Domestic Relations Law. One expert on family matrimonial law allegedly called the ruling "surprising," since divorce courts traditionally recognize rulings from foreign courts.

But divorce attorneys for Tsirlins have expressed understanding for Sunshine's decision, according to sources. It seems many similar cases have occurred in the state, and will benefit from the clarity Sunshine's ruling on the Tsirlins' case might offer their own cases.

Indeed, the Jerusalem Post reports on the growing number of international divorce cases, which involve couples who have moved from the country where they were married. The Post article suggests that, in a world where communication and travel between opposite ends of the globe is easier and faster than ever, the "where" of divorce cases is becoming less important than it once was.

The Tsirlins' U.S. divorce case was set to begin in late May, and, once completed, will provide them with a legal divorce in the eyes of U.S. law as well as that of the Jewish faith.

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