x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Is it too easy for couples to divorce?

Some recommend making legal procedures more difficult so that couples take time to reflect carefully on their decision to separate.

DUBAI // Divorce should be made more difficult to discourage couples from making the decision on a whim, experts said at a forum on the issue yesterday. Married couples should also be more aware of their rights and obligations within a marriage, according to the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department, which held a round-table discussion on how to lower the high divorce rate.

"We are calling for making it more difficult to divorce," said Youssef al Sharif, a lawyer who often works on divorce cases. "Why rush into a divorce?" The default marriage contract under Islamic law gives a husband the right to divorce his wife by saying to her three times in succession, "I divorce you". There have been incidents of husbands sending this message by text or e-mail to their wives, causing great debate in religious scholarly circles on the state of marriage and divorce among Muslims.

The "oral divorce" is a 1,400-year-old tradition, born out of a society that stressed the oral tradition to circumvent the high illiteracy levels of the time. Even now, however, there is controversy over revising or abolishing the practice, though some Islamic countries, including Tunisia and Morocco, have already revised their divorce laws. The UAE has one of the highest divorce rates in the region, estimated at 46 per cent. But the trend is not unique, as the divorce rates throughout the Arab world have been on the rise.

According to Mr al Sharif, revisions to oral divorce is an issue for the clergy to debate. In the meantime, he said, the best way to reduce divorce rates is to force couples to think carefully about their separation. "Why not sit on it for a good year, even?" he said. "The wife can ask for temporary alimony in the meantime, which is her right. And both of them can think about their actions and the effect it has."

Dr Sultana Youssef, a clinical psychologist and head of Dubai Community Mental Health Centre, called for a law requiring marriage contracts to clearly spell out the rights and obligations of both members of a couple, just as a business contract would. "I had a company, and when I signed a merger contract I read through all of its 25 pages. When it came time to break the partnership, the court told me: 'These are your rights and these are your obligations'," she said.

"So why not have the man and woman sign a contract that spells out their rights and obligations toward their marriage?" Such rights and obligations are clearly stated in Islamic marriage law, but couples are allowed to modify their contract before signing it at the time of marriage. Divorce is by default the man's right, but the woman can ask for a divorce if she can show cause. Women can request to have this right prior to marriage, and their marriage contracts would then reflect that status.

Some of the more common marriage conflicts that arise in the UAE reflect a picture of an affluent society negotiating tradition and global influences. There are wives who earn more than their husbands, but the Islamic tradition strongly discourages a man from accepting any money from his wife in things deemed to be his sole responsibility, such as home expenditures. A woman's earned money is her private property, for her to spend as she wishes.

"She makes Dh30,000 and he makes Dh12,000. In this case, I tell the man, 'Do not let her spend her money on the household'," Mr al Sharif said. "Because sooner or later he'll feel emasculated, and she will want to divorce him. "And remember, she has a right to house help if that is what women of her status have. And she has a right to a home comparable to others in her social strata." relass@thenational.ae