Avitzur v. Avitzur
58 N.Y.2d. 108, 459 N.Y.S. 572, 446 N.E.2d 136 (1983)

  • Boaz married Susan in a Jewish ceremony. As part of that ceremony, the pair signed a religious document called a 'Ketubah'.
    • Part of the Ketubah is a promise that in order to get a divorce, the couple must formally do it in a religious ceremony (aka a 'Get') in a Synagogue (aka a 'Beth Din'). If they don't then under Jewish law aren't technically divorced and neither party can remarry.
  • After 22 years, Boaz got a divorce in a civil court. However, he refused to go get the official religious divorce, leaving Susan in a state of marital limbo.
    • Susan met a new guy she wanted to marry, but couldn't marry in a Jewish ceremony without the 'Get'.
  • Susan sued Boaz in order to compel him to get a religious divorce.
    • Susan argued that even though it was couched in religious terminology, the Ketubah was nothing more than a civil ante-nuptial agreement with legally-binding contractual requirements.
  • The Trial Court found for Susan. Boaz appealed.
    • Boaz argued that involving the civil courts in a religious manner would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Susan appealed.
    • Susan argued that this was a contract matter, not a religious matter. Boaz signed a contract (the Ketubah), and should be bound by the terms.
  • The New York Supreme Court reversed and ordered Boaz to appear before the Beth Din.
    • The New York Supreme Court found it was not an intrusion of the State into religious matters, because it just requires Boaz to appear before a dispute resolution panel to which he agreed before he married his wife, and it does not force any particular outcome on the husband.
      • The Court noted that agreements binding couples to other alternative dispute resolution forums have been upheld as constitutionally permissible, and this one is no different.
    • The Court found that this was a secular contract matter and not a religious matter.
  • The holding in this case was later codified in New York Domestic Relations Law 253.
    • In order to commence a proceeding for divorce, a person must agree that they "have taken or will take, prior to the entry of final judgment, all steps solely within his or her power to remove any barrier to the defendant's remarriage following the divorce."