A state judge said it would violate an Orthodox Jewish man’s constitutional rights for the judge to use a secular divorce proceeding to compel him to grant his wife a “Get,” an authorization to remarry under religious law.
While granting Esther Masri and Joseph Habib Masri a divorce under New York’s no-fault divorce law, Orange County Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett declined to go past the guidelines of the state’s divorce statute when granting spousal maintenance and child support in Esther Masri’s favor.
Her attorney had asked Bartlett to impose maintenance and child support obligations above those in state guidelines unless Joseph Masri agreed to grant the Get, a writ of divorce under Jewish law that a husband must give to a wife to effectuate an end to the marriage.
But Bartlett said the only basis she has to enhance Masri’s obligations under state Domestic Relations Law §236B would be if she determined that Joseph Masri was using religious law to gain an unfair advantage over his wife in the state divorce law proceedings.
Bartlett ruled in Masri v. Masri, 1557/2016, that she could not discern any motives for Joseph Masri’s conduct toward his wife that would be illegal under New York state law.
“The religious and social consequences of which plaintiff complains flow not from any impropriety in defendant’s withholding a ‘Get,’ but from religious beliefs to which plaintiff no less than defendant subscribes,” she wrote from Goshen on Jan. 13. “To apply coercive financial pressure because of perceived unfairness of Jewish religious divorce doctrines to induce defendant to perform a religious act would plainly interfere with the free exercise of his (and her) religion.”
Bartlett granted Esther Masri spousal maintenance of $808 a month for four years, the amount and length of time to which the judge said the wife was entitled under state guidelines. She also ordered Joseph Masri to pay $843.83 a month to support the one child he had with his wife, who is living with her.
New City attorney Eric Ole Thorsen, who represented Esther Masri, said the Masri case has caused a split of public opinion in the Orthodox community of Kiryas Joel.
“I had high hopes that the judge would deviate both in terms of amount and duration from the [state divorce] guidelines,” Thorsen said in an interview Tuesday.
Thorsen said he did not plan an appeal at this point.
Joseph Masri represented himself. He could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.