What is a “beit din?”
A beit din is a rabbinical court, usually consisting of three rabbis but sometimes it consists of one rabbi and two educated, nonreligious (secular) members of the community. A beit din can be held for many reasons, such as to oversee a person’s conversion to Judaism or to give a couple a get.
If a husband requests a get, the beit din meets only once, to witness the writing of the sefer k’ritot (scroll of severance) and its delivery to the wife. In this case, the beit din will not question either party but will simply oversee the process. If a wife seeks a get, the beit din must first meet to hear her case. If they decide her case is valid, they will require her husband to appear before them to give the get. However, if he refuses to appear, the beit din has no civil legal authority to force him to do so. A beit din generally will not require a woman to appear if she is in danger, and will usually not ask a woman to appear at the same time as her abusive husband.
In some places, to convene a beit din, the parties must sign a shtar birurim, which is equivalent to an arbitration agreement. An arbitration agreement is when the parties agree to have an outside person or group make a decision about a disagreement, and agree to follow that decision under the law. While a decision from the beit din in the arbitration matter won’t stop a civil court from deciding custody, visitation, and child support, it may prevent even a state court from considering other issues like dividing property, assets, and debts.
In some communities, the parties agree that the beit din should decide the terms to end the marriage, and the parties use the beit din’s decision as a marriage settlement that is given to state courts with other uncontested divorce documents. After going through this process, some survivors may feel they have no option but to follow the decision of the beit din. It is helpful to consult with an attorney about what civil rights you may have in this kind of proceeding before signing such an agreement. Go to our Finding a Lawyer page and choose your state from the drop-down menu for legal resources in your state. You can also find attorneys who work in get law on our Jewish Resources page.