ABU DHABI // A woman can divorce her husband regardless of his consent while men cannot unilaterally ask for divorce, the Supreme Court said in a ruling released yesterday.
The decision came in a case from Sharjah in which a wife filed for a divorce and arbitrators denied her request. An appeals court overturned that decision, and her husband appealed to the Supreme Court.
According to the ruling, the court of first instance rejected the divorce "when in fact if [the request] was filed by the wife, you are required by law to order a divorce". The ruling also said that a husband must not be granted a divorce if the wife did not also file and there was no evidence of fault or mistreatment by her.
The Supreme Court said there could be three outcomes. If the husband mistreated the wife, arbiters should order a divorce and the wife will receive all her marriage and divorce financial rights, including dowry and other compensation. If there was fault on both sides, arbiters should order a divorce and a settlement depending on the extent of mistreatment.
If the wife mistreated her husband, she waives her right to any financial settlement in the divorce.
Traditionally, a woman who files without her husband's consent risks waiving her rights to any dowry or compensation.
Under Sharia, a husband can verbally divorce his wife. But, experts said, husbands often force their wives to file in court in the hope of avoiding any payments.
"The [Supreme Court] ruling is very significant because it identifies the issue of husbands trying to circumvent the law and get away from giving their wives their due rights," said Salwa al Habib, a lawyer who specialises in family cases.
Mrs al Habib said many women accept pressure from their husbands to file so they can avoid lengthy and costly court proceedings. They also are often pushed into waiving the right to personal compensation as a precondition to the husband's agreement to the divorce.
In the same ruling, the Supreme Court said judges should ignore a woman's decision to give up a financial settlement if there is any indication the request was coerced. In such cases, a court must order a divorce but also require the man to pay the wife her full financial due.
The case from Sharjah involved a wife who filed for a divorce in December 2009. The Sharjah Court of First Instance appointed two arbitrators to investigate the cause of the dispute and attempted to help settle the couple's differences. According to law, judges must rely on the arbitrators' report to make a decision. The arbitrators failed to fix the relationship and could not pinpoint the cause of the dispute, so they rejected the divorce. The court officially rejected her request on March 18.
The wife appealed the verdict and the Sharjah Court of Appeals appointed new arbitrators. That court then overturned the verdict on July 1, granting her a divorce. The court also ruled that the husband should give the wife half of her "deferred dowry", the portion of dowry paid after marriage, which in her case amounted to Dh10,000.
The wife had told the court on June 13 that she forfeited her rights to any financial settlement. But the appeals court ignored her decision because there was evidence she had been coerced into the statement, and the court ordered the husband to pay. The Supreme Court upheld that decision.
"The decision [to forfeit rights] should emanate from free will," wrote Chief Justice Falah al Hajeri of the Supreme Court. "If [judges] suspect that the decision was made for a certain purpose, it should be discarded."
The man appealed to the Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected his requests.