Geek Calligraphy takes a strong stance against iggun and is working to prevent it by ensuring that all clients of ours are informed and take measures against it.
What is Iggun?
Short version: it is a way to deny one's not-quite-ex-spouse a divorce under Jewish Law, preventing them from remarrying and getting on with their lives.
Jewish divorce (between heterosexual couples married under the Jewish legal mechanism of kiddushin, which is the only one historically accepted as real marriage) is effected by the husband giving his wife a document called a get. A later emendation to the law by the sage Rabbeinu Gershom stipulates that the wife must also accept the get for the divorce to take effect.
A woman who cannot get remarried because her previous marriage has not conclusively ended is called an agunah, which literally translates to "one who is chained." The nominal adjective is iggun.
The historic archetype of an agunah was a woman whose husband went on a long trip or into battle and is missing, presumed dead. Without proof of his death, she is not a widow and therefore cannot remarry. Nowadays the term is mostly applied to women whose husbands refuse to give them the get to which they are entitled (mesorevet haget). While sometimes done out of sheer malice, it is usually employed as a bullying tactic to force the wife to agree to his demands regarding division of assets, alimony, or custody of children. In the USA, where separation of church and state prohibits the enforcement of religious observance by secular courts, the means of compelling a man to give a get are limited, absent any sort of binding arbitration agreement signed by both parties prior to the start of the problem. It is possible for the secular divorce to be completed with the religious marriage still intact, leaving the woman no way to get remarried according to her faith.
A small minority of cases of iggun are caused when women refuse to accept a get; this is more common in Israel than in the Diaspora, but there are still more women bound in iggun than men in Israel.
How can iggun be prevented?
Iggun can be prevented by the signing of some sort of pre-nuptual agreement between the two parties. There are a variety of legal mechanisms by which to do this, but which one you choose tends to be a product of your outlook on Judaism (hashkafa) or what Movement you or your Officiant belongs to.
The Conservative Movement
The method currently favored by the Joint Beit Din of the Conservative Movement is a condition upon the marriage itself (kiddushin al t'nai). This is a document signed before the marriage that stipulates that if a certain condition is not met (frequently, if a get is not given within six months of secular divorce), then the entire marriage is retroactively annulled - it never happened in the eyes of the Jewish law. Note that this does not affect the legitimacy of any children conceived during the marriage. Consult an authority on Jewish law to learn more.
The Orthodox Movement
The Beth Din of America has put out a prenup that is separate from the ketubah. It has two provisions: each spouse agrees to appear before a panel of Jewish law judges (dayanim) arranged by the Beth Din of America, if the other spouse demands it, and to abide by the decision of the Beth Din with respect to the get; if the couple separates, the husband obligated to pay $150 per day to the wife (indexed to inflation), from the date he receives notice from her of her intention to collect that sum, until the date a Jewish divorce is obtained (this obligation ends if the wife fails to appear at the Beth Din of America or to abide by a decision of same). Members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and many members of the Rabbinical Council of America favor this option. Learn more about the Prenup on their website »
Other Methods: The Lieberman Clause
A method that is not used commonly anymore but was much favored in the past is the Lieberman clause, written by Rabbi Saul Lieberman z"l and introduced in the 1950s. The clause is built into the ketubah itself and stipulates that in the event of disagreement between the two parties over divorce, they agree to submit to arbitration by the Joint Beit Din (Court of Jewish Law) of the Conservative Movement. Some members of the Rabbinical Assembly still use it when officiating at a wedding, though it is gradually falling out of favor because it relies on the enforcement of the secular courts. Read the text of the Lieberman Clause »
Other Methods: Court Annulment
In cases of extreme duress, a party can apply to a court of Jewish law, who will attempt to find some grounds on which to declare that the wedding was never conducted properly in the first place. This can be contentious, as some courts will accept what other courts will not, so even if one court would rule that the wedding wasn't legal, another might say that it was. Consult an authority on Jewish law to learn more.
How does Geek Calligraphy recommend we prevent Iggun?
Geek Calligraphy does not make a recommendation as to which of these methods you use, only that you use one of them. Which one you use (or which combination - Ariela herself has both a Lieberman Clause and a t'nai b'kiddushin, while Terri just has the RCA Prenup) is a matter of personal preference.
Geek Calligraphy offers the Lieberman Clause as a text option for all ketubah designs, and we ask that anyone who purchases a Traditional Ashkenazi text affirm that they are using some other method of iggun prevention. Anyone who commissions a custom text that is binding by Jewish law is asked to do the same.