No matter how many reports you read about the rise in numbers of divorce cases in Saudi Arabia, it still remains a dirty word that Saudis are taught not to even contemplate. For my generation and those younger, there is a growing number who rebel. But for older couples it is still very true. No matter how much they hate each other, divorce is not an option. “Real” men and women never divorce. We are taught in schools that it is the most abhorred by God of all things Islamically permitted. Couples have separate bedrooms on different floors and lead chiefly separate lives and yet are still married. A man might take on a second wife and not see his first except twice a month to pay the bills and buy groceries. He does it because he thinks its manly and the woman stays on and is patient because that’s what a good woman does.
This like all other things is changing. After reading a report on this in Arab News, I thought I would write a bit about it. In Saudi Arabia there are two ways to obtain a divorce depending on who initiates it, the first is easy and can be done by the husband and the second is extremely hard and is reserved for the wife. The first can be done by the husband simply by deciding in his heart to divorce his wife and in effect this becomes valid immediately. Then in his own time he can go to the courts and obtain a document of his decision and send a copy to the ex-wife. Alimony and child custody is not a big deal either and definitely not mandated. Several women I personally know have never gotten any financial support from their ex-husbands. And in the case they are allowed child custody, its only because the father is not interested in caring for the kids. So in essence he is allowing the mother to have them. This and most other issues related to family law is only loosely based on Islam and what really goes on is the absolute vilification of the wife in court while the husband is always taken at his word. I know you might be thinking that I’m exaggerating but seriously I’m not.
When it comes to the wife initiating a divorce it is a whole different issue. It’s not even called divorce, it’s called khula which literally means taking off as in taking off clothes or jewelry. What the woman has to do is prove that the husband did something. Abuse whether physical or verbal does not get a woman far in court even with a medical report because the Saudi judges tend to believe that she probably did something to provoke it. The only proof that will absolve the woman and get her treated favorably is one of three; proof that the husband is a drug addict, has AIDS or being a daughter of a VIP. Otherwise the process is stressful, expensive and might lead to her never seeing her children again. In one case the judge and his assistants demanded from the wife that she detail her husband’s performance in bed. Another woman had to pay her dowry back in full after more than a decade of marriage and four children. Some of those years she financially supported her then husband and yet she still had to give back the money he spent on her as a young bride and give up child custody completely. To rub salt into injury, she was hushed in court while listening to the guy tell everyone there including her father and brothers how horny she was and that she wouldn’t be doing this unless she had someone else in mind to marry.
However after everything settles down, within society it is much better for a woman to obtain a khula rather than be divorced. Divorced women are usually viewed as having done something wrong but a woman who obtains a khula is a victim. It’s as if society understands that the difficulty of the process shows in some way that women do not go through with it except as a last resort after being tremendously wronged.