Women shun courts over divorce delays

Legal experts say lengthy proceedings aimed at protecting marriage making many women reluctant to exercise their rights.

ABU DHABI // Lengthy and time-consuming divorce proceedings aimed at protecting marriage and resolving family disputes without a separation are unintentionally making many women reluctant to exercise their rights, legal experts said yesterday. The policy saves many troubled marriages, but in other cases women avoid the judicial system because they know proceedings can last for months or longer.

Under Sharia, husbands can verbally divorce their wives, while women must go to court. A man may seek divorce for any reason, but a woman must provide concrete evidence of misdeeds by her husband. "When someone comes here for divorce, we usually ask them to come back after one week," said an official in the Judicial Department. "It does not make sense to tell them OK. Most of them would change their minds when they have time to think."

But Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a member of the FNC from Abu Dhabi, said that while UAE divorce law was progressing it had yet to catch up with modern standards. "They deliberately delay the court proceedings to give a chance for the couple to reconcile, but this is harmful for the women," she said. A spouse wishing to file for a divorce goes through a rigorous process to avoid dissolving the marriage. A couple is first sent to the family guidance section of the Judicial Department, where they receive marriage counselling. If the counselling fails, the court appoints two arbiters - one from each spouse's family - to investigate their reasons for divorce.

The arbiters' report serves as evidence for the judge in making a decision. Hashem Towfeeq, an advocate and legal consultant, said the lengthy process is cut short when there is a clear evidence of abuse, such as physical harm. The problem, Mr Towfeeq said, was that abuse usually was not tangible and therefore difficult to prove in court. "They have to find a mechanism to prove the harm. Maybe they should be satisfied with the woman's oath," he said. "The delay is useful sometimes because many couples would only need counselling and enough time to think it through. But, generally, no woman is willing to spend long times in court to get her rights."

Mohammed Mansour, from Baniyas, said his daughter was married to a Jordanian man and filed for divorce more than a year ago. He said it took more than six months for the judge to issue the ruling. The judge at the family court at the Judicial Department rejected her request for divorce but ordered the man to pay Dh30,000 as "deferred dowry", a portion of the dowry usually paid after divorce. "The man immediately left the country and the judge at the appeal court adjourned the case for three months. He told us he had to wait for the man to attend the hearing," Mr Mansour said. "The man left without paying, why does the judge have to wait for him to order a divorce?

"We're consumed, we've been in courts for so long and the man is just playing games." Zaynab Abdulrahman, 41, from Syria, was introduced to a Palestinian engineer through her family. But one month into the marriage, she said she knew she would not be able to continue a relationship with him because he was "too materialistic and dishonest". As is customary, she returned all his marriage gifts before asking him to divorce her. The gifts included more than Dh35,000 worth of gold, but he insisted they had not all been returned.

He told her he would keep her married to him by providing the minimum Sharia requirements: a monthly allowance and a house with nominal facilities. Meanwhile, she said, she did not want to go to court because of the long wait she knew she would endure. Her husband promised her that he would deny everything she said in the divorce proceedings. In the end, she said, money settled the issue. "After long negotiation, my family gave him Dh10,000 and he divorced me," Ms Abdulrahman said.

Mr Towfeeq said lawyers often advised their female clients to solve their issues outside court because of how the process could drag on. "Most of those who insist on entering the court would give up after the decision of the first court," he said. "If they continue to the appeal court and the higher courts, they might get their rights but they often give up before that." Dr al Qubaisi of the FNC insisted that abuse remained an issue. "If the husband is abusive and he is not worth having as a husband any longer, why the delay?" she said

She said the situation often encourages husbands to take advantage of the slow process to force terms on the wife. For a woman to seek her rights inside a court, she said, is considered socially unacceptable. "Long process also means more costs. Also it is generally difficult for women to use the court to get her rights, especially when she has children," she said. "She would be psychologically devastated.

"Most women just give up and would not be willing to enter a vicious circle." @Email:hhassan@thenational.ae