British Expat Divorce in Saudi Arabia

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Our firm advises British expatriates overseas and those expats with links to England on divorce and family law. This article sets out the applicable law and procedures for expats wishing to divorce in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Saudi Arabian family law

Saudi Arabian law is dealt with by Sharia law. Family matters are addressed in Article 10 of the Basic Law, which states that

the State shall take great pains to strengthen the bonds which hold the family together and to preserve its Arab and Islamic values. Likewise, it is keen on taking good care of all family members and creating proper conditions to help them cultivate their skill and capabilities.”

Marriage framework in the KSA

The framework of the marriage system in the KSA, which applies to both nationals and expats, is based on the twin legal system of male authority (qiwamah) and guardianship (wilayah) over women. This marriage framework is based on reciprocal rights (as opposed to equal rights) between the two spouses, whereby a woman is expected to obey the husband in return for financial maintenance and protection.

Guardianship and residency

A woman is placed under the guardianship of her husband upon signature of the marriage contract and is compelled by law to take residency in her husband’s home. Marriage to a foreigner requires special permission by the Ministry of Interior. For women specifically, this permission may only be issued if her guardian consents. A woman cannot bring an adhl case if the prospective husband is a foreigner.

Divorce rights and procedures

Women do not have an equal right to divorce as men. A man may divorce his wife unilaterally with no restrictions (by pronouncing talaq), whereas a woman may only obtain divorce through courts based on a limited number of grounds (faskh) or seek redemptive divorce, whereby she pays a mutually agreed sum of money to the husband in exchange for a final divorce (khul’).

Court proceedings for expat women

Expat women must go to a court in the KSA for her case to be heard if the husband does not approve the want for a divorce. During the hearing, both husband and wife must present both their cases and defence. If the court finds there is sufficient proof for a divorce, the marriage will officially come to an end. The husband does not have to give his consent if the grounds for divorce are deemed valid by the court.

Divorce for non-Muslim expats

For expats in a non-Muslim marriage the divorce will still require the husband’s permission. Ending a marriage will require the expats to consult with their respective countries’ embassies or consulates regarding the divorce process. Doing so will likely draw the attention of the local Saudi courts who will scrutinise the need for a divorce.

Custody and guardianship

Women do not enjoy equal rights to custody and guardianship of their children. As a general rule, a mother has the priority in gaining custody of her children until a daughter turns seven years of age and a son turns nine. Thereafter, custody of daughters is transferred to the father while sons are given the choice of whether to remain with the mother or be moved to the custody of the father.

Post-divorce claims in the UK

If you have been divorced in Saudi Arabia or another Muslim jurisdiction, but have not received a share of family owned property in England, English pensions or maintenance, you may be able to make these claims in the UK.

Contact our Islamic law specialist, Alexandra Tribe, for confidential and clear advice on the following issues:

  • The recognition of your Muslim marriage in England;
  • The recognition of your Talaq divorce in England
  • Obtaining a share of family-owned property in England;
  • Islamic marriage contracts and pre-nuptial agreements enforceable under Islamic laws;
  • Dowry (Mahr) claims under English law.

For advice on the family laws of Saudi Arabia, please contact a family lawyer in Saudi Arabia. Find here details of family lawyers in this region:

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Divorce in Saudi Arabia

Contact our experienced lawyers for confidential and clear advice on the issues detailed in the article.

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