If a husband does not give his wife a “get”, can she still get a civil divorce?
If a husband refuses to give his wife a get, she can still get a civil divorce in all states.
Some states have specific protections for women whose husbands refuse to give a get. New York has passed legislation, called the “Get Law,” Domestic Relations Law §253, which says that when a party sues for civil divorce, it is the responsibility of both parties to ensure that there are no barriers —religious or otherwise— to remarriage for either party after the divorce. This effectively insures that a man cannot, under the law of New York State, refuse to give a woman a get. If you live New York State, be sure to talk to your civil lawyer and your rabbi about how to insure that your husband gives you a get. Find Legal Resources in New York here.
If you live in a state other than New York, talk to your divorce lawyer to ask that s/he request that the judge make a similar order.* Go to Finding a Lawyer and choose your state from the drop down menu for legal resources in your state.
* Note: While no other state currently has statutes guaranteeing the right to a get, there is case law in the statutory annotations of many states regarding this topic. Get cases are sometimes argued under the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” For example, in one New Jersey divorce case, the court decided that forcing the husband to give a get fulfilled the secular purpose of completing the divorce; since no religious ritual was required in order to obtain the get, and since the get in no way impacted his ability to practice his religion, his First Amendment rights were not infringed by this requirement.