The Source of the Liability
Jewish Law imposes on the husband, once he signs the Ketubah, a duty to maintain his wife, whom he has married according to Jewish Law, for as long as he is married to her. However, a man can undertake to maintain his wife or partner even if he is not married to her, independently, in the setting of an agreement executed by the parties before they marry, as a property relations agreement or a cohabitation agreement, or after the marriage, in the setting of a divorce or separation agreement.
The Level of Alimony
Since alimony is awarded by force of Jewish Law, the guiding rule is “Rising together but not decreasing”. Meaning, that a woman is entitled to alimony that would correspond to the standard of living in which the couple lived, and to which the woman has become accustomed in the course of their shared lives, even if the husband goes bankrupt. Setting the level of alimony is performed by the court or the Rabbinical Court, which examines the husband’s earning potential and the extent of his assets, and on the other hand, the standard of living which the couple maintained: the house in which they live, the number of cars they possess, how many times annually they go on vacations in Israel and overseas, the extent of spending on luxuries such as going out, eating out, clothing, etc. The woman’s spending on grooming and beauty treatments, jewellery, hair salons, as well as all her expenses on account of a cellular phone, gym membership, and any other expense.
Can the Woman be Coerced into Work?
A woman cannot be forced to work outside the house to support herself. However, the rule in Jewish Law is “Her Labour Instead of Her Alimony” – meaning, that as a rule, the woman’s income will be deemed her alimony and will constitute a substitute for the alimony to which she is entitled from the husband, and only should she prove that she is entitled to alimony which exceeds her income, will the husband be liable for the supplementary amount above and beyond her income.
However, two instances must be distinguished.
If the woman did not work over the years and does not currently work – she cannot, as abovementioned, be forced to work, and the husband’s duty to maintain her stands.
In the event that it is proven that the woman stopped working for the purposes of the legal proceedings and so as to force the husband to support her – the court, or the Rabbinical Court, will examine the woman’s bona fides and the question of whether to charge the husband with alimony in the circumstances.
A person who is not Jewish or a member of another recognised religion, owes alimony to his wife under civil law – the Family Law (Alimony) Amendment Act 1959-5719. Under this Act, for the purposes of setting the level of a woman’s alimony, her income from work, her property and assets and her income from any other source, can be taken into consideration.
Can a Woman Lose Her Entitlement to Alimony?
The courts and the Rabbinical Courts do not deny a woman her entitlement to alimony casually; however, they may do so in suitable circumstances, which can be categorised into two types: instances which depend on the circumstances of the case and instances which depend on the woman’s conduct.
The intention behind instances which depend on the circumstances of the case is to circumstances in which the parties’ marriage is strictly formal (“official only”). That is to say, that the couple do not maintain any partnership relationship or communal residence, or that they are already living separately and the marriage, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists. The law takes a view of the husband’s duty as valid only when the marriage is reasonably ordinary, and therefore, in instances in which there is in practice no longer a bond between the couple, the woman may be denied her entitlement to alimony.
Instances which depend on the woman’s conduct are instances in which the Halacha stipulates that the woman could lose her entitlement to alimony and her Ketubah. For instance: infidelity on behalf of the woman, additionally to this being a cause for divorce (“She deviated from him”) this also constitutes a cause to lose her alimony and her Ketubah. Another instance in which a woman may lose her alimony and her Ketubah, is an instance in which the woman is declared “rebellious” of her husband, that is to say she refuses to have intercourse with him.
It is important to note that a woman will not be causally declared rebellious or having deviated from her husband – a husband who argues these causes will be required to produce real evidence of his claims.