Divorce & Child Custody challenges in Sharia Courts

Divorce|August 5th 2014

Thinking of moving to another country with your spouse? Before you do, there are a few things to consider.

Divorce is one of them.

In the excitement of moving to another part of the world with the person you love, you may not think about the possibility of divorce, but it is something you ignore at your peril.

If your marriage breaks down in another country, which laws will dictate how you split your assets? More importantly, how will care of the children be decided?

In the some countries, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), you may have to go through a Sharia divorce.

Sharia is Islamic religious law. In several countries, it is essentially the law of the land.

The UAE is one of those countries. Everyone living there has the right to have their divorce decided by Islamic law, regardless of their nationality or religion.

Sadly, there are reports of several Brits who found out the hard way that they were subject to the Sharia courts.

One British mother in Dubai was given a suspended prison sentence during a divorce dispute. During the case, her ex-husband presented photographs to support his claim that she had been “drinking alcohol, spending nights with strangers, primping and courting stranger men”.

The judge said these actions were forbidden by Islamic law and that the photos were enough to substantiate the husband’s accusations. The judge added that “any one of any religion” would be “disgusted and nauseated” by the photographs.

The mother cannot see her son again until he turns 18 as a result of the Sharia court ruling.

Another British woman was punished for the crime of working without her husband’s permission. Despite the fact that both she and her husband are British, he was able to have her deported from the UAE and get a travelling ban for their daughter. This means that the daughter is forbidden by law from visiting her mother.

In that case, the ex-husband was found guilty of assaulting his wife, yet it made no substantial difference to the outcome of the case.

It seems so obvious, and yet I feel like I often need to repeat myself: before you move to another country, you need to know just what you’re getting into. You need to know what will happen if your marriage breaks down.

If your heart is truly set on living in a country like the UAE, get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement in this country first. Establish from the outset which country will have jurisdiction over your divorce. A pre or post nup which is enforceable both here and in the country you are moving to, could be invaluable in ensuring that this country will retain jurisdiction if there is a dispute, that English law will be applied and the children will return here when the marriage ends..

A pre or post nup may not guarantee that you will not end up at the mercy of a religious court, but it would be infinitely better than to go in with no preparations in place. The more you prepare for every eventuality, the less likely you are to end up as a cautionary tale.

If all else fails and you’re told there are still no guarantees then perhaps you shouldn’t move at all. Marriages can still work even if the commute is transnational.

Photo of Dubai, United Arab Emirates by the_dead_pixel via Flickr

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