Tag: muslim divorce

International Child Custody and a Washington Woman in Saudi Arabia

In an interesting case involving international child custody and a Washington woman in Saudi Arabia, the woman who previously lost custody of her daughter in Saudi Arabia for being “too western”, is back! She traveled home for Christmas and is trying to stay in Washington state with the child.

International Child Custody

Shifting Sands

I’ve written about the case of Bethany Vierra Alhaidari before. Bethany, a 32-year-old student and yoga teacher, moved to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university in 2011. She divorced her Saudi husband, and sought custody of their four-year-old daughter. But the Saudi court concluded that she would not be a good parent.

“The mother is new to Islam, is a foreigner in this country, and continues to definitively embrace the customs and traditions of her upbringing. We must avoid exposing (the child) to these customs and traditions, especially at this early age.”

She started sleeping with her ex-husband, Ghassan al-Haidari, in a bid to get him to allow her and their daughter to spend Christmas with her family, in Washington state. It worked, but she did not return from the Christmas vacation.

Bethany is now asking a family court in Washington to give her custody of her five-year-old daughter Zaina. She said the custody agreement with her Saudi ex-husband was signed under duress and that she was not given a fair hearing by Saudi courts.

In recent years Saudi Arabia has attempted to shake off its image as one of the most repressive countries in the world for women.

In 2018, the government lifted a long-standing ban on women driving and made changes to the male guardianship system last year, allowing women to apply for passports and travel independently without permission from a man.

However, women continue to face numerous restrictions on their lives, and several women’s rights activists who campaigned for the changes have been detained and put on trial. Some of them are alleged to have been tortured in prison.

Florida and the UCCJEA

I’ve spoken about international child custody cases under the Hague Convention and the UCCJEA before. The UCCJEA and the Hague Convention are similar. The Hague Convention seeks to deter abducting parents by depriving the abducting parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where:

it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and

at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

However, many countries, like Saudi Arabia, are not signatories or treaty partners with us in the Hague Convention. Fortunately, when a country is not a signatory country, the UCCJEA may provide relief.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Washington. The ultimate determining factor in a Washington case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Alternatively, Washington could possibly hear the case if Washington was the Home State of the child within 6-months before filing or the children are in Washington and the court has emergency jurisdiction. In Bethany’s case, she is using a rarely used section of the UCCJEA.

A Washington Yogi in King Salman’s Court

Bethany appealed the Saudi ruling last August. But she said that it was ignored and that a Saudi judge forced her to reach a custody agreement. She went back to living with her ex-husband and at Christmas he allowed her to take Zaina to see her grandparents in Washington. They did not return.

She next filed a case with a court in Washington in January that cited a rarely-used clause in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Even though Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, the UCCJEA requires State courts to recognize and enforce custody determinations made by foreign courts as if they were State courts.

However, a court need not enforce a foreign court order or defer to a foreign court’s jurisdiction if the child-custody law of the foreign country violates fundamental principles of human rights.

The UCCJEA language comes from article 20 of the Hague Convention. The “human rights, or fundamental freedoms defense, is invoked on the rare occasion that return of a child would utterly shock the conscience of the court or offend all notions of due process.

Washington has some experience with this clause. In 2015, a court in Washington ruled that the state should not enforce custody decrees from Egypt because there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Egyptian child custody laws violated fundamental principles of human rights.

Bethany’s husband has asked a Washington family court to enforce the custody agreement registered in Saudi Arabia, saying that his ex-wife was seeking more favorable terms.

Parents don’t get to just move the child to a foreign state and then start a custody case if they don’t like the parenting plan they had in the child’s home state.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

The Divorce Pandemic hits Saudi Arabia

The divorce pandemic hits Saudi Arabia after first starting in China, South Korea, and the United States – which have reported increases in divorce filings following the easing of some quarantine restrictions.

Saudi Divorce

Dry Statistics

According to Al-Amri, the number of divorce cases handled by courts across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reached 53,675 in 2017 or 149 cases each day.

But new reports show that divorce rates in Saudi Arabia have increased by 30% during the lockdown period enforced by the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, reported the Dubai-based English language newspaper Gulf News quoting Saudi Justice Ministry.

The paper said the rate of divorce has increased compared to the same period last year.

However, during the lockdown period, 13,000 people also tied nuptial knots an increase of 5% compared to the same period in the previous year.

The ministry also informed that as many as 7,482 requests of divorce and Khula – a procedure in Islam which allows a woman to divorce her husband – were lodged.

According to the newspaper, some Saudi working women including doctors, citied secret marriages of their spouses as reasons for seeking a divorce.

Apparently, the preventive measures taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus including imposing lockdown – contributed to helping women to uncover the secret marriage of their husbands.

The high rate of divorce has become a destabilizing factor in Saudi society and it obstructs the Kingdom’s march to greater progress. Social consultant and researcher Salman Bin Mohammed Al-Amri has expressed his deep concern over the repercussions of the high incidence of divorce in society.

The office of the Grand Mufti approved 6,163 divorces during the same year, which is an increase of 846 cases compared to 2016.

“We should know that there are hundreds of divorces not recorded by the courts, so the actual figure could be much higher than what is officially reported”

The total number of divorces could be 40 to 45 percent of the total number of marriages, which was put at 159,386, in the same year. “This shows that we have to take drastic measures to bring down this huge number of divorce cases in the country,” Al-Amri told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written about the divorce statistics before. Forced together due to a shelter-in-place order may be the reason for your divorce, but legally you don’t need one. That’s because Florida is a no-fault divorce state.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or annoying behavior in a government enforced quarantine.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

What do you do if you are trapped in quarantine with someone you want to separate from?

To avoid problems during a quarantine, you may have to force yourself to work together – however difficult that may be.

Couples who are separating or separated already, and are parents, are being forced to work as a team and talk through problems that are making forced quarantine impossible. Reassure each other that you will make it through and work together.

The key if you’re living together is to strike the right balance between having quality intimate time together, or if you’re at the brink of your relationship, giving each other some space.

Shifting Sands

Measures must be taken to control divorces to reduce its social impact as it causes untold problems to the children of divorced couple. Men and women who have separated after years of living together also face psychological, economic and social problems.

“We have to conduct a detailed study on the increasing number of divorce cases in Saudi society to find a viable solution.”

Injustice, lack of honesty and trust, and confusion are the hallmarks of divorce cases across the Kingdom. It destabilizes families, the foundation of society.

Saudi and Gulf societies have changed considerably in recent years as a result of foreign influences and other factors, largely affecting social, cultural and economic norms.

“Our families have been influenced by the new urban culture and modern information technology. Education and employment of women and the Kingdom’s openness to foreign cultures were other factors that increased the divorce rate.”

Many parents have failed to prepare their sons to get married by training them to take responsibility. Some men fail to fulfill their Shariah duties toward their wives while those having more than one wife fail to treat all of them fairly and equally.

There are many other reasons including bad temper, infidelity, drug and liquor habits, miserly attitude and high dowry, in addition to psychological, health and social reasons.

Al-Amri said women are the most affected in case of divorce due to society’s negative attitude toward them. A divorcee loses economic support and financial security provided by her husband and this brings down her living standard, in addition to making her a burden on the family.

“As a result of this situation, such women will be forced to seek financial help from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and charitable organizations. This will lead to depression and push them to commit suicide,” he explained.

Most divorced Arab women are unlikely to get married for a second time because of the tough attitude of society toward them.

The situation of divorced men is not very different as they too face a lot of difficulties and mental pressure. They may be forced to pay to child support. Many divorced men are afraid of marrying another woman due to the failure of the first marriage.

Children are the worst hit by divorce as they will lose the sense of security and will not be able to concentrate on their studies. The father will try to take custody of his children and keep them away from their mother. “This will create a horrible family atmosphere for children,” said Al-Amri.

Instead of becoming leaders of progress and prosperity, separated men and women would become depressed individuals unable to make any contributions to the country’s growth. It will increase financial burden on the state, charities and civil societies as the divorcees and their children will require financial support.

The Al Arabiya article is here.

 

International Divorce on the Rise in Turkey

Fewer people in Turkey got married in 2019 while more filed for divorce as compared to the previous year, said the Turkish Statistical Institute recently. Because many foreign spouses are involved in Turkish divorces, these statistics raise international divorce issues.

Turkey international divorce

What’s Cooking in Turkey

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country governed by secular laws. Women have equal rights to property and are eligible for alimony after divorce. But Turkey’s conservative Justice and Development Party has pushed a strong family values agenda.

Turkey provides incentives for married couples such as a tax break, and women who work part-time can get subsidized childcare. Despite such measures — and to the government’s dismay — the rate of marriage has declined by 27 percent.

Divorce — though originally sanctioned more than 1,400 years ago by Islamic law — is still widely viewed in Muslim societies as a subversive act that breaks up the family.

Women who seek divorce can often find themselves ostracized and treated as immoral. Despite such taboos and restrictions, however, divorce rates are rising across Islamic countries, even in ultra-conservative places like Afghanistan.

Turkey, in particular, is seeing a record number of divorces, as both women and men are looking for a way out of unhappy and sometimes abusive marriages. Over the past 15 years, the divorce rate has risen from under 15 percent of marriages to nearly a quarter of them.

Domestic violence is almost always cited as a leading reason by Turkish women seeking a divorce. This is true even outside urban areas, which have also seen a slight growth in divorce cases; increasingly, women are willing to seek divorces in smaller, religious towns such as Konya, in central Anatolia, where Nebiye was raised. More of these girls and women also now have access to education and online information.

Florida International Divorce

International divorce often brings up the issue of jurisdiction. Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce case? The answers are more difficult than people think as I have written before.

A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London. However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still.

Rules about children and hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially in international cases. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved.

The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Residency for divorce is a very important jurisdictional requirement in every case. Generally, the non-filing party need not be a resident in the state in order for the court to divorce the parties under the divisible divorce doctrine. The court’s personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse is necessary only if the court enters personal orders regarding the spouse.

The durational domicile or residency requirement goes to the heart of the court’s ability to divorce the parties, because the residency of a party to a divorce creates a relationship with the state to justify its exercise of power over the marriage.

Well Done Turkey

According to government statistics, the number of couples who got married was 554,389 in 2018, and 541,424 in 2019, decreasing 2.3 percent. The crude marriage rate – the number of marriages per thousand population – was 0.656 percent in 2019, down from 0.681 percent in 2018.

Age difference at first marriage between male and female was 3 years. The province having the highest mean age difference at first marriage was the northeastern province of Kars with 4.5 years.

TÜİK also gave data on the proportion of marriage with foreign partners of total marriages, saying the proportion of foreign brides rose, while it fell for grooms.

The number of foreign brides was 23,264 in 2019, 4.3 percent of total brides. Syrian women topped the foreign brides with 14.5 percent, followed by Azerbaijani brides with 11.7 percent and German brides with 10.5 percent.

On the other hand, the number of foreign grooms was 4,580 in 2019, 0.8 percent of total grooms,” it noted. When analyzed by citizenship, German grooms took first place, accounting for 34.1 percent of the overall figure. German grooms were followed by Syrian grooms with 13.1 percent and Austrian grooms with 7.8 percent.

The Hurriyet Daily News article is here.