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When the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Parents are Divorced

December 6, 2012 5:11 pm 4 comments

Jewish boy reads Bar Mitzvah. Photo: Peter van der Sluijs.

Although festive and meaningful events, bar mitzvahs, like weddings, are always full of anxiety and stress. Even more so when the parents of the child are divorced!

Whether lavish or simple, the bar or bat mitzvah event requires an investment of time and money by the parents, and studying and preparation by the child.

When the parents are divorced there are additional issues which may arise:

  1. Who is paying for Hebrew school and bar mitzvah preparation?
  2. Who will get aliyahs?
  3. How expensive should the affair be? Catering? Number of attendees?  Invitations?  Entertainment?
  4. Where will the event be held?  Do each of the parents belong to a separate temple?
  5. Will both parents attend?  If one refuses to come, should he/she have to pay for the event?

A happy event for a child and family can quickly turn difficult.

In the State of New Jersey, the Court has broad discretion to award indirect child support related relief, including for bar and bat mitzvahs. The focus is always the best interest of the child and the parent’s financial ability to pay. The Court would look to determine if, where the parties still married, there would have been a bar/bat mitzvah and at what expense.

In a 2010 Appellate case in New Jersey, the parties went to court on several issues including alimony, counsel fees, future college expenses and bar mitzvah expenditures.  The dad paid $220,000 on his own for the bar mitzvah.  The lower Court commented that this should be considered when looking at the parent’s future responsibility for the child’s educational expenses and the parties’ responsibilities.  The Appellate Division said the college education issue was not before the Court yet, so Dad’s expenditure could not yet be “considered with reference to other financial obligations.”

In New York there is an additional case, which I find interesting and thoughtful.  Mom made an application to the Court to require dad to pay $5,000.00 to cover the cost of the son’s bar mitzvah, but Dad said it was unconstitutional for a Court to order his contribution to a religious event. The Court in its decisions described the history and meaning of the bar mitzvah:

“In latter years, the celebration portion of the ceremony has been augmented by many Jewish families in a large and ostentatious manner at considerable expense.  This practice is not looked upon with favor by the Rabbinate, who argue that parents should emphasize the sanctity of the occasion and should not demean it by undue emphasis in the societal aspects of the celebration. While Kiddish and the sharing of a festive light meal are customs of long standing, ostentatious and lavish display should be avoided.”

The Court determined that the two Jewish parents would have had a bar mitzvah celebration for their son if they were still happily married, so the Court was not imposing a religious requirement which would not have happened under happier circumstances, when it required the father to contribute.

As I always like to advise in all of my divorce and post-judgment cases, if you can make a decision about your life or your children’s lives without the input of a judge you are much better off.  Also, the cost of litigation will certainly cut into the funds available for the bar/bat mitzvah and the other needs of the children.

If divorcing parties litigate issues of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, they might get a Jewish Judge or they might get someone who has little to no knowledge of the event and tradition, resulting in a way off base decision.  In the prior case, Mom asked for $5,000.00.  Dad offered $50.00.  The Court awarded $1,000.00.  Was this worth the cost to litigate?

If people are divorcing and there will be future Bar/Bat Mitzvah expenses, to me it makes sense to contemplate this as specifically as possible in a Property Settlement Agreement. Issues to be addressed include cost and agreement on religious school education, temple dues, arrangements regarding transporting children to religious education, parameters of the event and budget.

I am divorced myself and can certainly sympathize with the issues clients are experiencing.  For my son’s bar mitzvah we planned a Havdalah service that was supposed to be followed by a small party outside the temple with kid’s activities and a dinner for close friends and family.  But Hurricane Sandy flooded our venue a few days before and I had to change the plans.  I made a nicer dinner at temple and a kid’s sports day on Sunday.  The cost was pretty much the same and everyone was helpful.  And the cost of the party did not cut into our allocation for my son’s future education.

Tanya N. Helfand has been practicing family law for over 20 years.  She litigates, mediates, and provides collaborative matrimonial services. She can be reached at tanyah@tanyahelfand.com.

4 Comments

  • This doesn’t have to be so difficult. Whether or not both parents are Jewish, make provision for the cost of the education and the bar/bat mitzvah in the decree. Keep the celebration simple, as it ought to be anyway, and split the costs. Don’t forget to note that study in the year before the ceremony may cut into time with both parents, and include reasonable costs for any necessary tutoring.

    I am a single Jewish mother with a non-Jewish ex-husband; most of these things are in my degree. My ex is no longer cooperative, but it doesn’t matter, and he has the money. There’s a long email trail of requests to him for input about guest lists, expenses, etc., none of which he’s answered. Our kiddush and party will be quite simple, and friends will help with food preparation. After the party I’ll collect the receipts, bundle them with other obligations my ex is trying to slip out of, and let the lawyer take them to the judge. I don’t think there’ll be any trouble collecting.

  • Divorce is a Rampant Epidemic especially when the government & military is behind it!

    I went to a father’s group in Texas (just north of Fort Hood) where some ex-military west pointer gave some real eye-opening comments. He basically said that the current Divorce process, legislation, court system and military is all one scheme that was put into play around the early 1960’s. It was put in place for the Vietnam War, that’s when the divorces started to sky-rocket across the country (Google statistics). That in addition, it was also designed to be one huge cash-cow to lure greedy lawyers to facilitate and destroy more families on the civilian side to get enough statistics to make it comparable to the military statistics. However the military numbers are still much higher. That is why they then modified the scheme to use on police nationwide to raise the civilian stats as most are ex-military and won’t suspect anything wrong. It is designed to send single male soldiers to war and deny ex-wives any financial support that was initially and may still be coming from the military/ pentagon’s money pockets. To the military, the soldiers wives are expendable as are the soldiers and also their children! Less money the military spends on wives, kids, ex-soldiers, etc the more they have for their drones, guns, or bullets. The scheme is very very complicated but based on very slow very subtle psy-ops brainwashing tactics. He said that any Freedom of Information request will gradually reveal key pieces of data that when analyzed together with confirm all this. Talking about this among other soldiers would also reveal stuff, so they came up with “leave your family problems at home” and the “zero tolerance” to divorce and get the spouses or soldiers out of the service quickly before they talk and expose the scheme. This is also the reason why the Pentagon does not want to release documents related to divorce. Part of the even bigger Military-Industrial complex.

    Basically makes wives and soldier fight and hate each other. The scheme basically exploits women’s emotional traits to spread itself to other victims. The media contributes to the fear mongering and makes things worst. Fear (PTSD etc) makes women fear for their safety or some play the helpless damsel in distress thus they then go pleading to the oh-so-willing authorities who provide them with military issued cookie cutter divorce packets to take to a civilian lawyer. They do this to hide where the process initially starts.

  • Is there any case law regarding Bar Mitzvah cost sharing if the other parent is not Jewish?

  • AS A BORN JEW IN A ORTHODOX COMMUNITY IN BROOKLYN I ASK THIS QUESTION:

    Arafat invented the term palsitinian,I know that.
    Abraham Aveinu recognized’ONE G-D’, Iknow that.
    Moses Moshe Rabbeinu brought down the LAWS,Iknow that.

    **where did a bat mitzvah come from other then feminisism movements.Frankly I dont care.
    WHY ARE YOU CHANGING TRADITION OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS?
    There is no basis for such a thing. why are you trying to make woman in competition with a man?
    Isnt a woman exulted and praised enough and more in Judaism?
    WOMAN SURE ARE.
    ….DONT ANSWER ME.
    ITS ONLY RHETORICAL QUESTIONS…

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