The separation of church and state has always been a fundamental part of America’s philosophy of law. However, the state has the right to make decisions regarding religious matters if someone is attempting to use religion to control another person. For instance, California’s recent coercive control law has given Jewish women in the state significantly more control over their lives by protecting them from abusive partners.
The coercive control law applies to all genders, but it has an outsized impact on women, especially those from strict religions. Here’s how the law has been helping Jewish women escape abusive marriages and how it may help you do the same.
About the Coercive Control Law
Senate Bill (SB) 1141, also known as the coercive control bill, is a recent law that expands California’s Family Code. It adds coercion as a form of legally recognized relationship abuse. That change means that people who are being coerced, or in some way forced or blackmailed, by their partners are officially recognized as abuse victims.
As such, people suffering from coercion have access to the same protections as other abused people. These include:
- The ability to get temporary emergency restraining orders against their abusers
- A greater likelihood of receiving a long-term restraining order against their abusers
- More consideration in court regarding child custody requests
The bill was initially controversial. Some abuse victim advocates argued that it would make getting safe divorces harder by putting additional burdens of proof on the abused person. However, it so far does not appear to have caused the issues advocates feared. Instead, it seems to have given certain victims of abuse the extra resources they need to escape their marriages.
How SB 1141 Is Helping Jewish Women Getting Divorced
For many religious people, there are two components to a wedding: the legal, state-recognized signing of documents, and the religious ceremony. Both parts are important, but the ceremony is spiritually essential while the legal matters are just administrative work.
This can pose a problem when religious people want to get divorced. For instance, in Judaism, a heterosexual couple can only get an “official” divorce if the man gives the woman a get, or a writ of Jewish divorce. While Jewish women can file for a legal divorce at any time, their synagogues and fellow practitioners may refuse to recognize them as single if their husband hasn’t granted them a get. These women are known as agunot, or “chained” in Hebrew, because they remain unable to get remarried in the Jewish faith.
That’s what happened when Michelle Hazani attempted to divorce her husband. While she had no issue moving the process forward in court, her spouse refused to issue her a get, leaving her agunot. While she was able to legally split up with him, her husband’s refusal prevented her from feeling free to do things like date, remarry, or even return to her synagogue.
This is where California’s new coercive control law came in. Hazani filed for sole custody of her children during her split. To receive sole custody in California, a parent needs to demonstrate that allowing their children to live with their coparent would be harmful. The most common way to do that is by proving that the coparent is abusive.
Hazani argued that her husband’s refusal to offer her a get was a form of coercive control, and therefor abuse. The court agreed, and awarded her sole custody of her children. While the court can’t order Hazani’s husband to offer her a get, this demonstrates that the new law is able to impose penalties on people who attempt to use religion to control their spouses.
Making the Most of SB 1141
Jewish women are far from the only people who can fall victim to coercion in abusive relationships. You can be coerced into a relationship regardless of your religion or gender. While the law appears to have clear benefits for people facing religious pressure and abuse, anyone whose spouse is forcing them to stay or otherwise coerce them can make the most of the new law. Here’s how you can start building your case for coercion:
- Track patterns of behavior: The bill defines coercion as “a pattern of behavior that unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.” That means you’ll need to have evidence that your partner’s behavior was more than a one-time deal. Keep records of times when your partner restricts you from doing things or otherwise prevents you from going about your reasonable daily life to build support for your claims.
- Collect supporting evidence: In some cases, it can be helpful to have background information about why a certain act is coercive. For instance, Hazani had to explain why her husband’s refusal to offer a get was restricting her actions. Gather details that may not be obvious to an outside observer just in case.
- Work with a qualified divorce lawyer: If your partner is trying to control you, you need outside help. An experienced attorney will help you navigate issues like filing documents and scheduling court dates even if your partner tries to interfere. They are also the one person you can guarantee is in your corner, since they are legally obliged to have your best interests in mind. The sooner you connect with a divorce attorney when you’re trying to leave your spouse, the better.
Don’t Let Religious Coercion Trap You in a Bad Marriage
Any kind of abuse can make you afraid to leave a marriage. That’s why California law offers victims of abuse additional protections when they decide to leave their marriages. With coercion officially recognized as abusive, people who feel coerced by their partners have access to the same protections as any other abused spouses.
If you feel trapped in your marriage because of your spouse’s religious behavior, you have options. Get in touch with the experts at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP, to discuss your situation. They can help you decide what steps you want to take and how you can escape your abusive marriage quickly and safely. Schedule your consultation today to learn more.