You realize that your relationship with your spouse has not been great lately. You thought things were working out, either because you were going to counseling, you were “talking about it,” or perhaps ignoring it. One day, you receive in the mail a letter (a hazmana) from a Beis Din (Jewish Rabbinical Court), summoning you to appear. What do you do?
A hazmana is a Jewish judicial summons demanding that you appear before a certain Beis Din on a certain date, at a certain time, to answer charges made against you by a particular person, in this case, your husband. Depending on which Beis Din sent you the hazmana, the document may be in written in English, Hebrew and/or Yiddish. The date for the scheduled appearance may also be a date based on the Jewish calendar.
Never underestimate the importance of the hazmana! Do not ignore it! Do not throw it in the garbage!
So you opened the envelope and either: (a) you are in shock and freeze; (b) in denial that this is happening; (c) you panic; (d) you have no idea what the letter states, because it is written in a language you don’t read or understand; and/or (e) you don’t know what to do.
First, stay calm.
Now, you must realize that you need to take certain immediate steps to protect yourself, your children, and your assets. More importantly, you have rights!
In this article, I am focusing particularly on marital cases when a spouse is requesting to dissolve the marriage. I am principally addressing issues faced by women, even though many of these concerns also affect men (who should feel free to contact me through our kol-isha.org website, and we will try to answer your questions as best as we can).
In many cases, the husband wants “out” and will only resolve all issues in Beis Din. This includes financial matters, such as maintenance, alimony, child support, child custody, distribution of joint and marital assets, and ultimately a demand that you accept a Get on his terms. In the case of the wife sending the hazmana, she usually just wants her Get from Beis Din and wants the secular courts to deal with the finances and child custody.
Since most women do not have a clue what to do when they receive a hazmana, we will try to allay the fears they might have.
A Beis Din proceeding is considered an arbitration in most states, which means that you have secular legal rights, which may include the right to an attorney.
When you receive the hazmana (hopefully in English), look at the date by which you must respond or appear. Remember, the date may be written according to the English calendar or the Hebrew calendar. Believe it or not, sometimes the date for you to appear may have already passed. Do not panic! You may want to call your rav to find out what this is all about, but be careful, because conversations with your rav may not be confidential and he may feel obligated to testify against you in Beis Din or secular court if he believes that what you shared may be detrimental to others – including your own husband.
If you choose to call a family member, rav or an attorney, keep a record of whom you spoke to, the time and date of the conversation, if it was with the person or his/her secretary, how many times you may have had to call back, the time your phone call was returned, and all the pertinent facts relating to the conversation. Always use your cell phone number, and give a time that you wish your phone call to be returned. If your phone is blocked, certain people may not be able to reach you. Ask them to call at a particular time so that you can unblock your phone.