Property firm owner admits coercive or controlling behaviour with get refusal

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Property firm owner admits coercive or controlling behaviour with get refusal

Alan Moher, 57, engaged in 'unreasonable manipulation of the inherent control a Jewish man has to give his wife a divorce', lawyers said

Unchaining agunot, women trapped in marriages and unable to divorce 
 (Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash via Jewish News)
Unchaining agunot, women trapped in marriages and unable to divorce (Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash via Jewish News)

The owner of a property company has pleaded guilty to engaging in coercive or controlling behaviour after failing to grant his wife a Jewish religious divorce (get).

Alan Moher, 57, and Caroline Moher, who have three children together, separated in 2016 and divorced in the Family Court.

But Moher did not give her a “Get” – a document that formally recognises the end of marriage in the orthodox Jewish faith, meaning she was unable to remarry, have more children or enter into a relationship with another man. This is known as ‘agunot’ – women being ‘chained’ to a Jewish marriage.

Ms Moher brought a private prosecution for a charge of controlling or coercive behaviour between January 2016 and January last year in what was described as “a landmark case” by her lawyers.

Moher, from Salford, was due to stand trial at Southwark Crown Court on Monday but changed his plea to guilty.

The charge states he “used or threatened her with violence causing her to fear for her own personal safety on two or more occasions; exercised unreasonable financial control, including by obstructing any financial settlements ordered by the Family Court; agreed to a civil divorce but prevented her from obtaining a Get (Jewish religious divorce) enabling her to remarry in accordance with Jewish law and practice”.

Moher had first pleaded not guilty and his barrister, Jeffrey Israel, explained his basis of plea did not “reflect the particulars” on the indictment.

In the document, agreed between prosecution and defence, he admitted his behaviour “was controlling in a number of ways which made it more difficult for her to regain control of her life” before he was notified of the prosecution in November 2020.

It states the case did not involve “an outright refusal” to give a Get but “did involve conduct which was likely to have been interpreted as using unreasonable manipulation of the inherent control a Jewish man has to give his wife a divorce, and thereby release her from the marriage”.

“Specifically, at various times, financial discussion was raised with the complainant to induce her to take less money than had been ordered by the Family Court proceedings in order to facilitate the giving of a Get,” it says.

“There were periods of time when maintenance payments were made on an ad hoc basis, and a few times not at all, sums which the complainant was entitled to and relied upon for her and her daughter’s everyday living expenses.

“There were incidents when the defendant behaved in an abusive and threatening manner towards the complainant.”

The couple separated in 2016 and a decree nisi was granted by the Family Court the same year but the divorce proceedings were not finalised until 2019.

The court heard Moher has a previous conviction for a public order offence after shouting that Ms Moher was “going to get what’s coming to her” following a hearing at Manchester’s Family Court.

Judge Martin Beddoe granted Moher bail on conditions not to contact Ms Moher, who lives in London, and to live at his flat ahead of his sentencing on April 1.

The judge said Moher had “not made a great impression” but described as “encouraging” that there have been no more incidents since the prosecution was brought.

“In adjourning sentence and extending your bail you should not be under any illusions that an immediate sentence of custody is a potential outcome,” he added.

Gary Lesin-Davis, a solicitor at W Legal, the firm instructed to bring the prosecution, said: “Individuals have the right to bring private criminal prosecutions in appropriate cases.

“Prosecution can provide a powerful remedy to protect vulnerable women whose treatment by recalcitrant husbands strays into criminal offending.

“Get refusal involves a serious restriction on the liberty of the victim and is behaviour designed to control and undermine a victim, keeping her in an intimate relationship against her will and preventing her from remarrying.”

Naomi Dickson, chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid, said: “This is a really important precedent and sends a clear message to all would-be Get refusers that coercive and controlling behaviour can be successfully prosecuted in an English court. We are following the case closely and hold Caroline in our thoughts while she awaits her Get.”

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