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May 23, 2014  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Governor signs bill without provision that would stop courts from recognizing Israeli divorces

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

A bill that originally would have barred Florida courts from recognizing Israeli divorces of Jews became law recently, but not before amendments wiped out that provision.

Still, before Gov. Rick Scott recently signed it into law, David Barkey, National Religious Freedom counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, urged a veto, saying it was “completely unnecessary” and carried “a taint of prejudice.”

The Florida Family Association touted it as a measure that “would prohibit Florida courts from considering some provisions of Sharia and other foreign laws.”

While that may score political points in some areas, Barkey said the U.S. Constitution already banned that.

Barkey said the intent of the law is to codify existing legal precedent in applying foreign law to divorces and other family law matters. Those court precedents have long protected Floridians from unjust or unreasonable foreign laws, he said.

When the bill titled “Application Foreign Law in Certain Cases” was still before the legislature, the ADL was critical of what it termed “insensitive” remarks made by the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale). The ADL noted that when another lawmaker pointed out that the bill would prohibit Florida from recognizing Israeli divorces of Jews or related matters such as custody, maintenance, alimony or property settlements, Rep. Combee said he “could not care less about the impact” of the bill on Florida’s Jewish and Israeli communities.

During debate in the House, State Rep. Jim Waldman (D. Coconut Creek) said the bill “stems directly from a hatred of Muslims” and called the bill “a solution in search of a problem,” according to a Reuters news report.

The ADL pointed out that under the original provisions of the bill, “If a Jewish couple divorced in Israel, one of the spouses moves to Florida, and wants to remarry, he or she would have to convince his or her former spouse to travel to and stay in Florida for six months to get divorced again, as well as likely incur all of the former spouse’s travel expenses and the legal expenses of getting a new divorce.”

Barkey argued that the sponsor could not point to one Florida case showing a need for this legislation and he repeated that argument to Scott before the governor signed it.

While Barkey said the law as approved is a significant improvement over the bill as originally proposed, the danger of it is that it “abolishes judicial discretion.”

In a conversation with the Jewish Press, Barkey noted, “When you try to codify case law, something gets lost in translation and can have unintended consequences,” Barkey said. International law on such matters “is a very nuanced and complicated area of the law, so it is hard to tell what will be the consequences.”

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