Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Rabbinical divorce recognized in Greece

A court in Thessaloniki has recognized a rabbinical divorce registered at the district court of Haifa. Greece and Israel have not signed a bilateral convention on recognition and enforcement of judgments; however, Greece does not require reciprocity for the purposes of recognition [Thessaloniki 1st Instance court Nr. 7333/2013, unreported].

THE FACTS:  The applicant concluded in 1985 a religious marriage with her ex-husband in Tel Aviv. The marriage was properly registered at the Tel Aviv rabbinical office. A year later, the Haifa district rabbinical court registered an agreement of the spouses to dissolve their marriage, thus granting to the agreement the force of a court decision. The latter was submitted to the Thessaloniki 1st instance court, with the request to be recognized in Greece.

THE RULING: The court applied Article 323, in conjunction with Article 905 Para. 1,2 & 4 Greek Code of Civil Procedure, i.e. the provisions regulating the issue of recognition of foreign judgments in personal status matters. The court examined the file and the pertinent facts, and allowed recognition, because the requirements set by Art. 323 CPC were met.

In particular, the finality of the Israeli divorce decree was proven by a certificate of the applicant’s second marriage, celebrated again in Tel Aviv in 1989. In addition, the court took note of a confirmation letter issued by the local Rabbi, according to which, a rabbinical divorce, as the one in question, is final and conclusive pursuant to the laws of the state of Israel, because rabbinical courts are solely, i.e. exclusively competent to issue a divorce between citizens of Jewish religion; hence, civil courts aren’t allowed to issue divorce decrees.  

In addition, the remaining requirements to recognition were also met, i.e. international jurisdiction of the Haifa rabbinical district court, rights of audience of the parties, and no inconsistency to a Greek decision involving the same parties.

Coming to the last prerequisite, i.e. public policy, the court elaborated as follows: The sole fact that the dissolution of marriage was issued by a religious rabbinical court, i.e. an institution unknown to domestic justice perceptions, does not mean to suggest a violation of Greek public order, since its content (and its pertinent legal effect) resemble to those of a domestic civil court, when hearing an application for a divorce decree in mutual consent (Article 1441 Greek Civil Code).

COMMENTS: As far as I’m aware of, there hasn’t been any reported case on the matter up to date in Greece. Hence, the decision per se is a positive step, setting a precedent for similar cases in the future. Clearly, the court had an easy task, given the fact that the dissolution was the fruit of a mutual agreement, allowing the Greek judge to refer to the equivalent institution of Article 1441 Civil Code. Nevertheless, avoiding the public policy mind field was not as easy as it looks, and this choice should undoubtedly be regarded as the right one.

On a more technical matter, the court was satisfied in regards to the foreign decision’s finality on the grounds of the applicant’s second marriage (evidenced by a certificate), and the confirmation letter issued by the local Rabbi. The prevailing opinion is however, that foreign res iudicata must be evidenced by a certificate issued from the court which rendered the judgment. A failure to produce the above might lead the court to ask for the reopening of proceedings, so that the applicant be granted time to furnish the required document in the ensuing hearing. Still, courts have shown flexibility in several cases, and accepted alternative ways of proving res iudicata, one of those being the decision at hand.