x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Divorce by ultimatum valid, Supreme Court rules

A woman visited her neighbours after her husband told her doing so would mean a divorce – a mechanism the Supreme Court says is legal.

ABU DHABI // The Supreme Court has ruled that a divorce is final even if it is only implied in an angry  ultimatum — and that the wife must go through the Sharia-mandated process of marrying another man before she can return to her first husband.

The ruling, issued this month and released yesterday in court documents, came in a case involving an Egyptian man who divorced his wife by giving her the ultimatum: “If you go and visit your neighbours, you are divorced.” She did, and Sharjah courts ruled the divorce was valid because he had told her “I divorce you” twice before.

According to Sharia, a man can divorce his wife by telling her three times: “I divorce you”. Sharia scholars differ about whether the divorce statement can be made on three different occasions or all at once.

The husband filed a lawsuit disputing the validity of the divorce, saying he had obtained a fatwa from an Egyptian scholar annulling it because the words were said in a moment of extreme anger. Divorce, according to Sharia, can be annulled in cases of “ighlaq”, roughly equivalent to temporary insanity.

The courts found that he had said, “I divorce you” on three separate occasions: in July 2001, in February 2007 and in March 2009.

He told the courts he was extremely angry the second time, and was not in his right mind, or in ighlaq, because of her “behaviour”.

The Sharjah Court of First Instance adjourned the case for him to present a fatwa from an official centre, but he did not. The Sharjah court then upheld the validity of the divorce. He appealed against the decision and the Sharjah Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court.

On appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the divorce, saying that the man failed to prove his decision did not emanate from conscious choice. In accordance with Sharia law, the Supreme Court continued, the woman could only remarry her husband after marrying another man and waiting for three months after actual intercourse.

“He is liable for his second divorce decision, and so the three divorces have been completed,” Chief Justice Falah al Hajeri of the Supreme Court wrote in his ruling. “The divorce was final and she must not be his wife until she marries another man and until her iddah [a period of waiting before a divorcee or a widow can marry] ends after a genuine marriage.”

It has been claimed that many men refrain from unilaterally divorcing their wives in a bid to avoid large divorce payments.

But several recent rulings by the Supreme Court have empowered women in terms of divorce rights.

Traditionally, a woman who files for a divorce without the husband’s consent risks waiving her rights to any dowry or compensation. Men, according to experts, often force their wives to file so the men can avoid payments.

But the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling in November, said a court should order payments for women if they suspected any coercion.