15:15 GMT20 February 2020
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    Saudi Arabia is now starting to terminate marriage contracts (divorce) in court forcibly for both a husband and wife – even if one of the spouses doesn’t appear in court or recognise the divorce.

    This guarantees the observance of all subsequent rights, ranging from alimony and child custody to the freedom of a divorced woman. Previously, husbands would generally refuse to recognise a divorce, even if they didn't live with their official wives. This made the woman completely dependent on the man, who could already have a new family.

    The new amendment is designed to ease the burden of divorced women. Often, most men do not intend to officially file for a divorce from their wife.

    Visitor takes pictures at the entrance of the female section, during the Saudi Comic Con (SCC) which is the first event of its kind to be held in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (File)
    © AP Photo /
    Visitor takes pictures at the entrance of the female section, during the Saudi Comic Con (SCC) which is the first event of its kind to be held in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (File)

    They can de facto live separately, but de jure the wife cannot enter into a new marriage (unlike the husband, who has the right to have a second wife); the wife also cannot perform a number of legal procedures without the written consent of her spouse.

    While previously the court was able to consider a divorce case in the presence of only one spouse, now both spouses are required to appear at hearings, as the practice of hearings with only one spouse present granted divorces very rarely. This was used, first of all, by men who didn’t intend to officially register a divorce. It was almost impossible to prove the fact of a divorce in such situations.

    “Indeed, this decision obliges both spouses to be present in court. This is how we will definitely be able to legally recognise the divorce. The system has finally bound both spouses to appear before the court so that the rights of a woman and a child are respected following the divorce", Rana al-Doknan, a lawyer from Saudi Arabia, says.

    A Step Forward for Women's Rights

    Speaking about the positive aspects of the new reform, the lawyer said that "before the amendment was adopted, the position of women was rather difficult during trial".

    "Husbands were able to not appear in court, thereby delaying the process of divorce. Usually, the trial lasted about three months, and women's rights and interests were not always considered. Now, the trial will take an average of 10 days. Moreover, the mandatory process of documenting divorce is an essential step in ensuring the rights of women in the kingdom".

    Iman Falata, an expert on sustainable development in Saudi Arabia, agrees with Rana al-Doknan, noting the importance of this amendment for Saudi society.

    "The decision to make divorce documentation in the presence of both spouses compulsory was made as a result of the large number of cases of so-called ‘secret divorce’, where a husband refused to declare the divorce officially, thereby infringing upon the rights of his wife", she says.
    A woman drives a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving (File)
    © AP Photo / Hasan Jamali
    A woman drives a car in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving (File)
    "Often, in such cases, husbands don’t make the required allocations for their ex-wives. Moreover, a woman cannot even undergo surgery without the written permission of her husband. And with a secret divorce, some men generally refuse to sign anything for their ex-wives. And there's nothing to be done", she points out.

    Iman Falata adds that the new reform should be implemented as soon as possible, "then there will be much fewer problems in our society".

    Chances of Reconciliation

    Hawazin al-Zahrani, a Saudi researcher on children, women, and humanitarian issues, notes that the new solution helps preserve families, as a judge will still have a chance to reconcile the spouses.

    "One of the goals of the Vision-2030 programme was social advancement. We should become a living organism, stably functioning and capable of dialogue. A stable family is key to stability in society".
    A girl in a burqa. (File)
    A girl in a burqa. (File)
    "The new law not only deprives men of the opportunity to get a divorce without their wives knowing, but also provides hope that in certain cases, the judge will be able to reconcile the spouses and save the marriage. If not, then at least the spouses will be able to divorce peacefully, agreeing on child support and child custody", she says.

    The Saudi Ministry of Justice recently released divorce statistics. The number of divorces has lately reached 4,000 per month, with Saudi courts issuing six divorce decisions per hour - and this is just the statistics on official divorces.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Women's Rights, women's rights, women's rights, Saudi Arabia, Islam
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