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A recent Second Department decision is adding some confusion to the already complex issues relating to Get refusal and the court’s ability to alter the disposition of a case or condition terms on a party’s refusal to remove barriers to the other’s remarriage. The problem of the agunah, the Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a Get, a religious writ of divorce, thus forcing her to remain chained to a dead marriage, continues to engender enormous debate in the Orthodox Jewish community and disagreement in Civil Courts. In a recent decision, Cohen v. Cohen, 2019 NY Slip Op 03765 (2d Dept. May 15, 2019), the Appellate Division vacated a second amended judgment of divorce which, inter alia, conditioned a defendant’s distribution of his equitable portion of the marital estate on his requirement to give the plaintiff a Get and, thus, remove barriers to her remarriage. In so holding, the Appellate Division, relying on Domestic Relations Law §253, reasoned that since this statute does not require a defendant to provide the plaintiff with a Get, the lower court should not have “directed” the defendant to give a Get to the plaintiff. Domestic Relations Law §253 specifically references the plaintiff’s responsibility to do so, as the party who commenced the action. As such, the court held that the penalties imposed on the defendant due to his failure to give a Get must be vacated.

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