x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Divorce rate rises in Emirati and expat marriages

Change in women's roles and financial crisis partly responsible for rise in broken Emirati and expatriate marriages, say experts.

The number of divorces in Dubai has risen by almost a quarter in the past three years, helped by the financial downturn and the changing role of women in society, experts say.

Dubai Courts data show that between 2009 and last year, the number of divorce cases increased by 40 per cent for expatriate couples and 7 per cent for Emirati couples. The rise for Emiratis married to expatriates was 25 per cent.

“We have at least four calls daily asking for divorce,” said Jouslin Khairallah, a lawyer in Dubai.

The data was released recently by the Dubai Statistics Centre. Its report did not include population figures or an estimate of the divorce rate; only a snapshot of marriages and divorces since 2009.

Lawyers, marriage counsellors and academics say factors behind the increase include greater numbers of working women and the financial downturn of late 2008.

Divorce among nationals is rising because of broader social change, said Diana Hamade, an Emirati lawyer in Dubai.

Last year, 1,117 Emirati couples married and 307 divorced.

“Women have more independence,” said Ms Hamade, a columnist for The National. “A lot of women are working women now. They won’t just accept what their mothers used to accept.”

Marriages across the board were strained by the 2008 financial crisis, said Rima Sabban, an assistant professor of sociology at Zayed University.

“Usually, if you are facing issues and problems with work, it shows in your family,” Ms Sabban said.

Roghy McCarthy, a marriage counsellor, said some men expected their well-educated wives to act in the same way as their grandmothers had at home.

“The women, they are developing much faster,” Ms McCarthy said. “Men, somehow, they are a little bit behind.”

MA, 29, an Emirati who was married to his cousin for four years, said poorly arranged marriages, marriage at a young age and family interference were to blame.

“The biggest problem was the interference of her family in every single issue that is related to our life,” he said.

“She always shared every single issue we had, no matter how small it is, with her family, which resulted in more fights and problems.”

Divorced a year ago, the father of a three-year-old son said his arranged marriage followed a short engagement period.

Ms Hamade said the main reason she had witnessed for failed marriages was infidelity.

“I don’t know why, but it just seems to be the prevailing reason here,” she said.

People have more opportunities for extramarital relationships than they used to, said AA, 33, a divorced Emirati mother of two.

“The number of immodest women who don’t mind having relationships without marriage has increased in the recent years,” the Abu Dhabi native said. “We see them everywhere, especially in shopping malls.”

For expatriates, the stress of moving to Dubai can trigger marital problems.

“The UAE is a land of fantasy,” Ms Hamade said. “Two expats come here, their life changes completely. The people they get to know, the circumstances, the money that comes in, the house, the children’s environment is so different.”

“What you see is so many break-ups, just families being shattered.”

Ms McCarthy said many expats come to Dubai searching for “a geographical cure” for their troubles.

“They think changing places, having a good job and good income is going to solve the problem,” she said. “Actually, that adds more problems. Sometimes, suddenly you have more money and you are working much longer hours.

“Temptation is a little bit too much in Dubai as well... The things that normally you are not allowed, or you are expecting yourself not to do – here, temptation is there and nobody is really watching you.

“The family man suddenly comes here and realises, oh, he is getting a lot of attention from women. We see this a lot.”

Ms Hamade and Ms Khairallah said people in Dubai needed better marriage counselling.

“The courts do not refer you to proper family counselling,” Ms Hamade said. “What we have at court is not what you would seriously refer to as family counselling … it’s not really a suitable device for reconciliation.”

Ms Khairallah said counselling should be provided outside of the courts by well-trained and culturally sensitive professionals. Women “find it very hard to go to court” to discuss problems in their marriage, she said.

While divorce is devastating, sometimes it is the better alternative, Ms Hamade said.

“For some children, life with two divorced parents is much better than two parents who are making everybody’s life miserable.”