Divorcees struggle to get custody of their children |
Saudi Gazette - 10 May, 2012
According to Saudi law, which is based on Shariah principles, a mother can keep her children after divorce until they reach the age of seven at which point boys can choose which parent they want to live with while girls usually live with the father.
Cases of parents fighting for custody have been on the rise with several problems arising during and after divorce due to delays in court procedures.
According to popular belief, personal status laws govern social issues of child custody, marriage, inheritance and divorce. Both men and women who spoke to the Saudi Gazette said status and money are pervasive sources of gender-based discrimination in the Kingdom.
Saudi lawyer Haitham Asdaa said women have a greater chance of winning custody if they can prove that the father is either mentally unstable, physically abusive or suffers from drug or alcohol addiction. Often, fathers do not want custody or the responsibility of raising children.
“You know some men are accommodating and they do not want the responsibility, so they pay for the living expenses of their children but then you have others who want the children for the mere aspect of their ego, class and stature. That is the only reason they want their children back,” said Asdaa.
However, most women who spoke to the Saudi Gazette said it is almost impossible to regain custody of their children after the age of seven. There are many cases, Asdaa admits, where custody is easily granted to the father.
“There have been cases where foreign mothers try to get their children out of the country so they can live with them outside of Saudi Arabia — hence the skepticism behind mixed marriages. But for a Saudi woman it is extremely difficult to keep her children from going to her husband after the age of seven,” he said.
Foreign mothers who marry Saudis are almost never granted custody of their children after divorce and often end up being taken off their husband’s family card and deported. It is not uncommon for foreign mothers to be prevented from seeing their children. If a foreign mother is granted citizenship, she will be subject to Saudi laws pertaining to child custody.
“I remember my best friend and neighbor. She was born to an American mother and a Saudi father and had a tragic childhood. Her father physically abused her mother and would lock her up for days. My mother and I used to check up on her every day. One day, when she got hold of her passport she took the chance and returned to America with the help of the US embassy,” said Lina Mahmood.
“She left Sarah with us that day and said she had no choice because Sarah’s passport was with her father. She used to call us every day for months until a few years later we found out Sarah’s father had started abusing her physically. Sarah’s mother returned on a visit visa to claim her right to child custody but was denied instantly. She finally managed to take Sarah away on an exit visa.”
Manal Ghusali, a mother of two, divorced her husband ten years ago because of his drinking problems and his second wife. Regardless, he was granted custody of the children and she spent years battling him in court.
“It is a fact that no other woman can provide the same amount of love and care for your children. My story is quite similar to others. My husband remarried and brought in another wife. I left because to me that was unacceptable, especially after his serious drinking problem. I did not know then that the cost of being independent and right would cost me my children. For years I fought my case in the courts but I could not legalize my claims. His second wife would neglect my children and stopped paying for their living expenses. My son started working at the age of 16 to support himself and his sister,” she said.
Ghusali said she threatened her husband and managed to get the children other accommodations. “Fortunately my children were mature enough to understand and they settled for living under his guardianship. But only I know how these years went by.” Ghusali still does not have the legal rights to her children.
Shaima Al-Sharif (name changed), mother of three girls living in Jeddah, filed for divorce when her eldest daughter was four and the youngest one was less than a year old. Her husband refused to pay alimony and child support and soon abandoned the family. Al-Sharif worked to support her daughters but now that they are of age, the father wants custody of all three girls.
“He left me with the kids and never paid for anything. We barely even met. Now that it is the legal age for them to go live with him, he has been calling me up to have custody of them,” she said.
Al-Sharif said she does not trust a man who refused to provide for his children even though it is his moral and religious obligation and has filed a case to have custody given to her. “If he did not fulfill his responsibility as a father for all these years, what makes him think I will hand over my children to him now? When he conveniently abandoned our children, I was the one who had to get a job and take care of my girls.
Now, by the grace of God, I earn enough to maintain a good household and take care of my family. I would never compromise their education and freedom. I know my husband will — he is against girls’ education. I do not want to give them over to a man who has such a mentality.”
Saudi lawyer Khalid Abu Rashid said according to a recently-published report, if a mother has custody of her children and pays for them but has not filed a complaint about non-payment of child support from her ex-husband, she can still claim payment and be reimbursed.