Coercive Control

Get Abuse is Coercive Control

So How Can We Outlaw it as Domestic Abuse?

What is Get Abuse?

A religious Jewish marriage is terminated when the husband voluntarily gives his wife a get (a Jewish divorce document) and she voluntarily accepts it. Women are considered “chained”(agunot) to their estranged husbands if they withhold a get. While get abuse can theoretically occur to either spouse, for a myriad of reasons this issue disproportionately affects women. Women cannot remarry if they have not received a get. Any child from a subsequent relationship is stigmatized as the offspring of an adulterous relationship (mamzer) and cannot marry another Jew. 

Get abuse is when a spouse intentionally withholds a get, preventing them from remarrying and chaining them to a dead relationship.

What is Coercive Control?

California state law describes coercive control as "a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty."

Examples include the following:

  • Isolating the other party from friends, relatives, or other sources of support.

  •  Depriving the other party of basic necessities.

  • Controlling, regulating, or monitoring the other party’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services.

  • Compelling the other party by force, threat of force, or intimidation... to engage in conduct from which the other party has a right to abstain or to abstain from conduct in which the other party has a right to engage.

How is Get Abuse Coercive Control?

Get abuse is a form of coercive control in three respects:

1) Get abuse interferes with personal liberty

  •  Get abuse deprives a victim of personal liberty and autonomy by creating an impediment to remarriage

2) Get Abuse can constitute contractual fraud (blackmail)

In exchange for a get, an abuser may:

  • Demand a financial pay-off or compel her to waive rights to which she is entitled, such as spousal support or marital property      
  • Demand custody or unsupervised visitation even where it is detrimental to the well-being of the child in exchange for the get.
  • Demand that she withdraw restraining orders or criminal charges in exchange for the get.

3) Infliction of Emotional Distress

  • Get abuse destroys the victim's peace and inflicts severe and continuous emotional distress

Examples of Get abuse as Coercive Control:

  • Unless I get custody, or visitation, on my terms, you will never get your get”
  • “You had better drop that restraining order if you want your get”
  • If you ever leave me I will make sure that you go to your grave as an ‘agunah’”
  • I will only give you a get if you waive your equity in the house and pay me spousal support

Coercive Control, Get Abuse, and the Law

Coercive control is not illegal in most states.

In 2021, California modified its Domestic Violence Protection Act to include coercive control as a form of abuse. This measure was lobbied for by Get Jewish Divorce Justice. This allows victims of coercive control (including victims of get abuse) to bring their abusers to court. These courts may then grant a restraining order, or use the abuse as justification to not award custody, or to determine spousal support.

In February 2022, a California court used get refusal as evidence of a pattern of coercive control, ruling in favor of the agunah and granting her full custody of her children and a restraining order against her former spouse.

New York is the only state that explicitly requires the "removal of barriers to remarriage" as a condition of civil divorce. In New York, if there is evidence of get abuse as a means of coercive control the courts may increase spousal support to the victim, or grant them a larger portion of mutual property.