ABU DHABI // A system allowing divorced husbands to pay alimony to their estranged wives through an ATM could be introduced across the capital in a year's time.
An electronic payment machine was installed at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department headquarters in June and now the department is wondering if the machine could be distributed more widely to allow divorcees to make payments to their former wives, as required by Islamic law.
Rashid al Dhaheri, the department's director of information technology, said: "In six months we will do a survey on whether people like it.
"If it is popular we will start distributing it. If it gets approved we are going to put it in other areas to make it easy for customers to do their payments for their wives and kids."
Payment machines could be installed in airports and family guidance centres, although wider distribution would require more consideration with regard to placement, Mr al Dhaheri said.
"If it's required to be in malls maybe we will put [them] there too, but maybe some people will be unwilling to pay in public," he said. "Other people will look at that person and think he has had a bad experience."
Alimony, or nafaqa under Sharia law, is calculated based on the husband's salary and assets after a divorce. It is paid by the husband rather than through an automatic deduction from his salary. Payments have, until now, been conducted through bank transfers.
The e-payment system works by issuing each person a card through which their case can been accessed on the machine. The individual can then pay the alimony with a credit card.
The system was introduced to make it easier to pay and try to reduce the number of defaults. However, there have been cases in which men refused to pay their alimony, which can sometimes add up to a 40 per cent deduction from their salaries.
Rima Sabban, an assistant professor of sociology at Zayed University, said: "There are huge disputes over this,. It's a major issue. Many women don't want to take the case to court because you have to put your whole private life in the public eye. Lots of women just cut their losses and live without nafaqa."
Hassan Mohsen Elhais, the managing partner of Al Rowadd Advocates, a Dubai-based firm which covers family law, said women not receiving payments have legal recourse as the courts have wide-ranging powers to force husbands to pay.
"If the husband does not pay after one month they can put him in jail," he said. "Otherwise it can seize his assets or transfer money directly to the woman."
Although there are no official statistics for divorce in the Emirates, Fatima al Sayegh, a professor at UAE University who has conducted research into women's issues, said that, anecdotally at least, the number was rising.
She said that making payments through a clearly designated machine could be embarrassing for men while stressing that nafaqa was necessary.
"Divorce is embarrassing but when it is done you have to just deal with the impact," she said. "Men shouldn't avoid their responsibilities."