In 2013, an Orthodox Jewish woman named Gital Dodelson became a figure of controversy when she opened up to the New York Post about her husband's refusal to give her a “get”, a religious document required in order for the divorce to be recognized by the Orthodox Jewish community. Dodelson was awarded a civil divorce by the New Jersey courts, but the non-issuance of a get meant that she was still a married woman in her own community. Dodelson was finally granted a get in 2014, possibly due to the publicity generated by the New York Post article.
Many women, however, continue to suffer Dodelson's fate of being trapped in a marriage by a husband and a religious system that will not recognize a civil divorce. Up till now, the state courts have maintained that compelling the issuance a get, or any other religious divorce is a violation of one's freedom to practice his or her religion. The only exception is if the couple enter into a prenup that specifies a get will be given in the event of a divorce.
While such prenups are encouraged, neither party can be forced into it. This leaves many women vulnerable to all kinds of domestic violence at the hands of their husbands, even after the issuance of a civil divorce. For one thing, New Jersey's domestic violence laws include psychological actions or threats of such actions in order to control the other person. Thus, it stands to reason that the withholding of a get may be perceived as domestic violence since it's that last bit of control that a husband holds over his wife. It should also be stated that a get is something that can only be granted by the husband, thus a husband can divorce his wife at will, whereas a wife's ability to move on is completely dependent on her husband.
Those who are not familiar with the concept of religious divorce may wonder why it even matters, since a civil divorce is recognized by law. The problem is that a woman who is still considered married within her religion cannot remarry anyone else from that religion. Many of these women are also spurned by their family and friends, and excluded from religious events. Even worse, this ostracism may extend to their children, who are already struggling with the aftermath of their parents' separation. These consequences support the argument that the withholding of a get amounts to an act of domestic violence under New Jersey laws.
As of now, this is not an issue the courts are willing to touch, but there's always hope for the future. New Jersey is, after all, a very progressive state when it comes to the definition of domestic violence, and who can seek protection under the law. Continued progression of the state's laws depends on the victims, both men and women, speaking out against such abuse, as well as taking advantage of the available legal options.