Divorce Rates in the Arab World

The increase in international divorce rates, due in part to changes in the nature of family and family life, can be seen thoughout the Arab world. Lebanon, in particular, is reporting a marked jump in divorces as more statistics become available.

Arab Divorce Rates

As the Simoom Blows

The Arab world is not insulated from the profound socio-economic changes around the world, and this is evident from the rise in the number of couples choosing to separate in several Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A recent study by the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center found that Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the Arab countries with the highest divorce rates.

In Kuwait, 48 percent of all marriages end in divorce, 40 percent in Egypt, 37.2 percent in Jordan, 37 percent in Qatar, and 34 percent in both the UAE and Lebanon.

Sheikh Wassim Yousef Al-Falah, a Shariah judge at Beirut’s religious court, told Arab News recently:

“On some days, we have up to 16 divorce cases in this court alone. The increasing divorce rate is a phenomenon that we have not seen before, although we do not favor divorce and focus on reconciliation.”

Experts believe this trend has been driven by a combination of economic pressures, evolving societal norms, legal reforms and, above all, the changing role of women.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written international divorce rates before. In the United States, many complained that no-fault divorce led to an increase in divorce rates here. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.

Proving fault often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010. Whether or not it is intimacy or communication, you do not need to list a reason for a divorce other than an irretrievable break in the marriage.

Like the Cedars of Lebanon

Through much of history, especially among the more conservative cultures of the Arab world, a woman’s place was long considered to be in the home, handling the needs of the family, while male relatives studied and went to work.

Now, as Arab nations modernize their economies and reform their legal systems, women are becoming more independent, increasingly pursuing higher education, progressing in their careers, and choosing to marry and have children later in life.

As a result, Arab women have developed a keener awareness of their civil rights, personal ambitions and self-respect. They increasingly refuse to tolerate domestic violence and are capable of supporting themselves financially.

“The current statistics compiled by the religious courts that handle the personal status of Lebanese citizens and foreigners residing in Lebanon reflect an increase in divorce requests, especially those submitted by women.”

In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationship also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown.

Reforms to the legal status of women in Lebanon have drawn particular attention in recent years, with the introduction of a slew of legislation designed to protect them from sexual harassment and domestic abuse. However, human rights monitors say the reforms do not go far enough.

Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have piled further pressure on relationships as living standards plummeted, people lost their jobs and households were forced into long periods of constant close proximity under lockdown.

Several countries around the world reported spikes in domestic violence during the pandemic and Lebanon is no exception. The nation’s economic woes and disruption to court procedures during the health crisis appear to be making matters worse.

The figures for divorce in Lebanon might be somewhat skewed by the growing use of marriage as a means of gaining citizenship in another country, as waves of young people move abroad in search of better opportunities.

In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationships also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown.

Lebanese citizens will often move between sects to facilitate a divorce. Couples from the Maronite sect, for instance, the courts of which forbid the annulment of marriage in all but the most extreme circumstances, might turn instead to the Catholic or Orthodox sects, which allow the annulment of marriages.

They might even turn to the Sunni sect to access divorce procedures before converting back to their original sect. According to Shariah, divorce — known as khula — has been permitted since the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Obtaining a divorce in a Sunni religious court is considered easier than in a Shiite religious court, after these courts developed new rules that raised the age for child custody, amended the dowry and banned underage marriage.

Family values are cherished in Arab culture, and authorities — both religious and secular — tend to prefer that parents stay together for the sake of their children. Experts believe marriage counseling, better education for young couples, more open discussions about relationships, and even a relaxation of the social taboos surrounding premarital social interaction between men and women could help reduce overall divorce rates.

The Arab News article is here.

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