Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dana Melnik: It’s Not All About the Get

Guest post by Dana Melnik

The concept of a Get, a Jewish religious divorce, in today's day and age has intrigued enough people to make national headlines, such as the New York Times, but the media has lost focus of what is really important here.  The child.   I am not an expert on paper, not a psychologist, not a lawyer and I don't have any fancy degrees.   I write this as a mother and a daughter.  Withholding a Get has been used throughout history, the majority of the time, to oppress the woman in which case I support organizations, such as ORA (Organization for the Resolution of Agunot), efforts and attempts to try and break this trend, but in the Epstein-Friedman matter this is not the case. The divorce rate today is high. It's unfortunate for the parents but even more unfortunate for the children. People fail to remember that when kids are involved, the stakes are quite high.

For the most part, growing up, my understanding of divorce was that when a mother and father split, the mother always got full custody of the kids with the father having visitation and maybe seeing the child/children every other weekend.  It seemed pretty straightforward to me.  The father wasn't as attached as the mother and he was simply able to pick up, move on and establish a new life with minimal contact with his children.  It seemed like the norm to me.  After all, I had friends and even family whose parents divorced and this seemed to be what always happened.  However, all that changed when it came to my own daughter.

I moved to Maryland from New York with my husband, for my husband actually, with our 6 week old daughter.  For whatever the reasons were, our marriage didn't work out and we began the process of separation. There was a lot going on at the beginning and of course things were tense.  They are ALWAYS tense at the beginning.  Separating and getting divorced is NEVER easy, and there were bumps in the road, but we were determined to work on a good schedule that would accommodate both of us for our daughter’s well being.  Of course, the thought crossed my mind numerous times to move close to family since I had no one here to help me out.  With a full time job and a toddler, things can get really difficult, but how was I going to move away, when she had a father who loved her so much.  How was I going to explain, when she got a little older, that I intentionally took her away from her father just to make my life a little bit easier for the short term? What goes on between husband and wife should not affect the relationship a daughter deserves to have with her father.  I can tell you from personal experience and seeing the way my daughter interacts with her father and the relationship I have with my father, that there is NO substitute for that!  The child deserves two parents, not necessarily who are together, but who realize the importance of keeping things amicable and working together to raise the child. There seem to be two main factors that come in to play when parents get divorced and children are involved. The legal aspect in the court system and 2)  The emotional aspect. Unfortunately many states and their court systems don't take the idea of co-parenting, shared custody, into account when deciding custody.  Family law has left a lot of room for interpretation on custody and what is really best for the child, allowing the Judge, in every case, to pretty much determine a child and parent’s destiny. This has become an issue which affects not only the parents in very long drawn out custody disputes but affects the child tremendously. The idea from the beginning should be to involve both parents in the child's life equally.  Ron Henry, a children’s advocacy attorney in Washington, D.C.,  has focused his efforts on trying to "demilitarize" divorce.  He works on the legal reform level to try and get laws passed which make courts start every custody case with the idea of co-parenting.  Unfortunately, every state is different when it comes to its family laws and no state is perfect in protecting the child’s right to have two actively involved parents but there has been progress. The District of Columbia, for example, has a statute that creates a presumption of joint custody that Mr. Henry helped to write.  Maryland has no such statute and judges sometimes allow one parent’s manipulation to squeeze the other parent out of the child’s life.  In the case of Aharon Friedman, Tamar, took their child to Philadelphia and the court allowed her to keep the child there, making it extremely difficult for Mr. Friedman to establish a relationship with his daughter or even a workable custody schedule (he works a full time job).  This makes no sense to me as a mother who understands that a fathers right to an equal amount of time should never be taken away from him barring egregious circumstances, which is not the case here.

The second issue here is the emotional aspect of the parents.  The consistent argument here is that this issue has inflicted emotional pain on both sides, thereby not allowing the parents to think clearly for the child and what is in the child's best interest.  To that my answer is, grow up!  If the court has limited the father’s time with the child it does not mean that the mother shouldn't see the consequences a weak relationship with the father will have on the child down the

Most mothers don't believe that I have shared custody with my child’s father.  Our child spends half the time with her father and half the time with me.  I know my child’s father is an excellent father and my daughter loves him, so why should I fight for having more time?  Because I want more child support?  Because I'm her mother so naturally she should be with me?  Is it for emotional reasons?  I can't separate from my child?  All these reasons are selfish.  Most mothers fight out of guilt.  If I don't fight for my child and have them a majority of the time, what kind of mother am I?    What kind of mother is able to be away from her child half the week and be okay with that?  Well, how about a mother who is confident the daughter is being well taken care of by her father and if she didn't have a strong relationship with both parents in her life there is the concern of what might happen down the line.  Children want love and need two parents.

Mr. Friedman is holding on to what he believes is his last hope which might allow him to establish a relationship with his daughter.  Who can blame him?   Every man is the "tough guy" until they are actually put in that situation.


  1. Thank you for a mature, honest and accurate assessment of your divorce proceedings. Not sure that every other couple's experience duplicate this.

  2. "Withholding a Get has been used throughout history, ..., to oppress the woman"

    actually not true.

    despite extensive history of shu"t (responsa) there has not been any reported cases till the twentieth century.

    while we have many many pre nups (actually ketubot) which monetarily reward an early divorce. perhaps this is the answer.

  3. I don't publish ANONYMOUS comments!

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