Q. May a woman institute proceedings for a Jewish divorce?
A. The technicality of the situation is that the man takes the initiative in both marriage and divorce: the Torah says in relation to marriage, “when a man marries a woman” and in relation to divorce, “he shall write for her a bill of divorce” (Deut. 24:1).
Hence at a marriage it is the groom who places the ring on the bride’s finger and at a divorce it is the husband who instructs the scribe to write and witnesses to sign the document and it is he or his agent who hands it over to the wife.
However, either party may make application to the Beth Din for the divorce proceedings to take place. The grounds of the application are not limited to matrimonial offence; the criterion is marriage breakdown. Hence the halachah specifically empowers a wife to sue for a divorce from her husband if he has a loathsome disease or occupation, or if he refuses to support her, is cruel to her, is licentious or impotent or refuses her conjugal rights.
The Beth Din may decide to attempt a reconciliation between the parties and sometimes this is effective, but in most cases in the Diaspora situation there have already been proceedings for a civil divorce and it is highly unlikely that the marriage can be reinstated.
A husband who refuses to co-operate in a gett will be counselled and every effort will be made to secure his consent, but it must be said that it is not always the man who causes problems; in something like 40% of cases it is the woman who, at least initially, withholds her co-operation.