Thursday, November 14, 2013

False Accusations and the Withholding of a Get

The Dodleson-Weiss case has brought into public focus the real problems of the Agunah. In this case, the husband Avrohom Meir Weiss is withholding a Get (religious divorce) from his wife Gital Dodelson. This is not acceptable. He should give her the Get immediately and unconditionally. He hasn’t yet. But I have heard from insider sources that the two parties are talking to each other and that a compromise will be worked out. I hope that’s true so that both parties can get on with their lives. Despite the fact that Mr. Weiss is wrong in using the Get for leverage to get a better deal for himself, I am happy that things are progressing for them.

That said, I have absolutely no respect for Mr. Weiss. Whatever claim of injustice he may have he should never have threatened his wife with the Get. Withholding of a Get should is never an option no matter what.

Is that true? Is it ever legitimate to withhold a Get  from your wife, thus making her an Agunah and unable to re-marry? The quick answer is no. It is never OK to do that under any circumstances.

This has long been my view. But I may be wrong. Rabbi Yair Hoffman has penned an article in the 5 Towns Jewish Times that raises this exact question. He asked it to a Posek (that he does not identify). His surprising answer was, yes. There are times where it is permissible to withhold a Get. Here is what he said: 
 (I)t is permitted to do so in response to false legal accusations that are still causing a continuing negation of the father’s rights to see his children.  The Posaik claimed that when a false report has been filed against a husband and the husband is not allowed to see his children as a direct result of the false report, he may, with the permission of a reliable Posaik, withhold the get as leverage to ensure that the situation be rectified. 
As is often the case in custody disputes, a wife will falsely accuse her husband of sexually abusing their child to gain full custody, and deny her ex-husband any rights to the child at all.

How often does this happen? I don’t know. But it does apparently happen often enough to be concerned about it. The oft heard claim that virtually all accusations of child sexual abuse are true does not therefore apply in custody battles between husband and wife.

The question arises as to who determines whether an accusation was false?  Here is what that Posek said: 
(I)t definitely cannot and should not be the husband.  It must rather be the ruling of a competent Rav or Bais Din, and only after a forensic evaluation has been conducted, where both parties had been spoken to, and after the determination that there doesn’t exist any corroborating evidence. 
He goes on to say that the choice of which Rav or Beis Din should not be made by either the husband or wife. They will obviously look for someone who is biased in their favor.

In my view a false accusation of sex abuse by a wife against her husband is inexcusable. And I completely agree that a Get can be withheld so that the truth will come out, and thereby granting equitable rights of custody to both parents and restoring the reputation of the husband.

If that’s even fully possible anymore. Once someone is accused of sexually abusing a child, that will affect them for life. People will always harbor niggling doubts about his innocence. 

I have little sympathy for people who make false accusations like this. Withholding a Get until the truth comes out is nothing compared to what a man falsely accused of sex abuse will have to deal with. When the truth comes out, she will get the Get and her Agunah status will end. Her husband’s reputation will be tarnished forever.

I do not however believe that it should be Rabbis who make the determination about the guilt or innocence of the accused husband. Even though  false accusations abound, that should not lower the standard of finding out the truth of an accusation.

It ought to be professional trained to deal with sex abuse. Not rabbis or a Beis Din. They do not have the training or experience to deal with sex abuse. And they do not have a good track record when it comes to bias in favor of the accused. But I do see a role for them.

As this Posek said, the choice of a Rav or Beis Din should not be made by either the husband or wife. The same should be true for the professional hired to determine the facts. This is where an unbiased Rav or Beis Din should come in. They can be the ones to choose that professional. And it should be the professional alone who makes the determination.

An innocent man accused by his wife of sexually abusing his child during a custody battle has every right and should use every option at his disposal to clear his name. That includes withholding a Get until his name is cleared.

In fact I would go even further. After giving the Get, I would petition the courts for full custody of the child with the claim that any woman that falsely accuses her husband of sex abuse in order to gain full custody is unfit to be a mother.