Withholding religious divorce controlling and coercive behaviour: Moher

In a guest post, Fouzia Azzouz, of Bristol University’s School of Sociology, Politics, and International Studies, looks at the law around a husband’s refusal to grant his wife a religious divorce.  

In 2021, the UK Parliament passed amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Serious Crime Act which stipulated that withholding a Get can constitute a violation of those laws. The draft statutory guidance under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognised that withholding a religious divorce both by Muslim and Jewish husbands may constitute controlling or coercive behaviour and a form of spiritual abuse which could lead the husband to be imprisoned. This development was in reaction to various calls for action to tackle the issue of ‘chained wives’ in religious communities.

In Muslim and Orthodox Jewish communities in Britain, we often speak of ‘chained wives’ who are trapped in religious marriages because their husbands refuse to divorce them. This is because the family laws of these religious communities do not have the same right to divorce for men and women. In Islam, a husband can unilaterally divorce his wife with the simple utterance of ‘I divorce you’ (or other derivatives). The wife does not have this right but has access to two other types of divorce which are contingent on the husband’s approval or the intervention of an Islamic scholar (known as Khula and Faskh respectively). An Islamic scholar(s) is able to terminate a Nikah under certain grounds. Continue reading