Healdsburg woman wins relief from Israeli divorce

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Issued three weeks ago, the order also requires Allen-Katz's ex-husband to pay an estimated $23,000 in back child-support that he began withholding several years ago with the rabbinical court's approval.

On both counts, Superior Court Judge Lloyd Von der Mehden ruled that the foreign rabbinical court no longer had jurisdiction to alter the get, or divorce agreement, it issued more than a decade ago.

The judge's ruling ends an ordeal that has persisted since Allen-Katz and Gady Nadler divorced in 1986.

It has been such an irritation that Allen-Katz does not expect she will actually file for the child support, which would require her to go through Israeli civil court.

"We're so tired of lawyers and so tired of courts, and we never want to see Mr. Nadler again…There are already so many bad feelings," Allen-Katz said last week. "It would just reinforce all the hatred that's already there."

The judge's decision centered on complex issues, primarily involving the validity in the United States of orders issued by foreign courts that use procedures unacceptable to courts here.

In his decision, Von der Mehden noted that the rabbinical court did not notify Allen-Katz before the proceeding. She didn't know of the court action until after a decision was made.

Lysbeth Goodman, Allen-Katz's attorney, said the judge's ruling wasn't a surprise because the rabbinical court's procedures were so out of line with California law.

For a foreign court order to be considered valid in California, it must fulfill a dozen requirements including the use of due process.

Basically, Goodman said, the rabbinical court ruled against Allen-Katz because the rabbis considered her a "bad wife."

Von der Mehden, who heard arguments in the case in December and January, also wrote that Allen-Katz didn't owe Nadler $115,000 — half the value of a Haifa apartment she won in the divorce settlement and later sold.

Nadler's case contended that she received the apartment based on the presumption that she and the children would continue to live in Israel.

The judge found nothing in the divorce agreement that linked the apartment to keeping the children there.

Nadler, who still lives in Israel, could still try to appeal the ruling. Larry Moskowitz, Nadler's attorney in Santa Rosa, hadn't spoken with his client about the decision yet and declined to comment.

Allen-Katz, an Oakland native, met Nadler while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia in the early 1970s. She converted to Judaism and the couple married in Israel in 1975 under the jurisdiction of a rabbinical court — as all Jewish couples must do in Israel.

The couple had three children but eventually split up. Their divorce was also handled by a rabbinical court.

She later met another Israeli. But she couldn't marry him in Israel because the man is a kohen, a descendant of the ancient priesthood who is forbidden under Jewish law to marry a divorced woman.

So in 1989, the pair moved to Sonoma County with her three children. They then married.

Nadler apparently believed that Allen-Katz broke the divorce settlement, claiming that she couldn't take the children out of Israel without his permission.

He sued for custody of the children in 1991, with a rabbinical order in hand. Three years later, the same judge in the current case decided the Israeli court had lost jurisdiction and ruled against Nadler.

Nadler returned to the rabbinical court, this time obtaining orders releasing him from child-support payments and requiring Allen-Katz to give him half the value of the apartment.

Last year, Allen-Katz was served with Superior Court documents designed to enforce that rabbinical court order.

Although she has now won the case, Allen-Katz still has at least one major dilemma. An Israeli citizen, she doesn't believe she can return to Israel without coming under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical court again. It means she can't visit her eldest daughter, who is currently serving in the Israeli army.

"I really love the country and have a lot of friends there and relatives there and my daughter's there," Allen-Katz said. "But the danger of falling into the rabbinical court…is just not worth it."