A call for an urgent change in UAE marital laws to make it more difficult for women to be granted a divorce has sparked intense debate.
During a Dubai television report featuring a number of legal experts and a family-affairs judge, lawyer Mukhtar Ghareeb said it was too easy for women to file for divorce.
“Any woman who wants to go to court and get a divorce can do so,” he said. “This calls for an urgent need to amend the law.”
His words divided opinion among lawyers and the public.
In the TV report, it was stated that Dubai courts receive about 1,000 divorce requests each year – mostly from people in their early twenties.
Lawyer Ahmad Amiri was one of many who took to Twitter to argue in favour of the current law, which grants a woman the right to divorce even if she cannot prove that physical, verbal or emotional damage has been caused by the husband.
“They are arguing that some women are taking advantage of the law, but in reality these things [damages] usually happen behind closed doors and proving it in court is very difficult.
“So usually when a woman files for divorce based on damages, if the damage was proven, she gets the divorce; if she was unable to prove it, the case is referred to two arbitrators.”
If the arbitrators are able to prove the damage, the woman is granted a divorce, and if they are not able to prove it, a judge has the final say.
Mr Amiri said critics are linking the number of divorces to this section of the law.
But he said observers need to view the entire picture – taking into account the number of divorce applications filed by men and women, and the number where they are granted without such damages being proven – before rushing to a judgment.
He said the law needed to be fair to women.
“Our law is derived from Sharia, which allows the husband to divorce for no reason, and to remarry without the consent of his wife. So it is only fair to allow the woman to get a divorce from this point in the law that they have frowned upon.”
Hassan Elhais from Al Rowaad Advocates and a member of the International Academy of Family Lawyers in the UK, believes granting the judge authority to challenge the recommendation of the arbitrators and dismiss the case instead of allowing divorce if he sees fit, would be a positive step.
Mr Elhais believes requiring a burden of proof on suffering caused to women in a marriage could leave many stuck in a “bad relationship”.
Mr Elhais said he had worked on many cases with women who had been physically abused, but in a manner that left no marks and therefore were unable to get a medical report, and other cases of women who had been verbally abused or traumatised and left with mental scars, which can be tough to prove.
Fatima Alamri, 35, an Emirati homemaker, said the problem is not that the law has made it easier to get a divorce – but that the man can be left with too high a price to pay for the split.
“The problem is the benefits the woman gets after the divorce,” she said.
She said a woman who gets divorced after a short marriage, and has only one child, can claim a house, a maid, a driver and an allowance from the husband.
“He ends up having to pay Dh200,000. How will he pick up his life again and start a new family? He will spend his entire life paying her allowances.”
Moreover, she said many newlyweds are getting divorced within a year of marriage, “some of them while they are still pregnant”.
“And they are all in their early twenties – we have four such cases within the family,” she said.
Couples who file for divorce are referred to a family guidance counsellor, who meets with them several times in an attempt to reach a reconciliation.
If this fails, the couple see two arbitrators who, only after several meetings, either reach a settlement or refer the case to the personal status ourt judge with a recommendation for granting them a divorce. According to the current personal status law, the presiding judge is unable to differ with the recommendation of the arbitrators and must grant a divorce if recommended.
Residents seeking divorce in the UAE have the option to choose between the personal status law of the husband’s country or Emirati law.
According to Article 1 of the UAE Federal Personal Status Law, the terms of this law apply to foreigners unless one of the spouses insists on implementing their country’s law, said Emirati lawyer Awatif Mohammed.
“For example, if the husband is British and he insisted on his country’s law, he is obliged to bring relevant articles of the law – legally translated and authenticated from the ministries of justice and foreign affairs in his home country and the UAE Embassy there, then present them to the Sharia court judge,” she said.