Saudi Divorce and U.S. Immigration
Prof. Gabriel Sawma
Saudi Arabia is a Kingdom established in 1932 by King Abdul-Aziz. It is the only country among Muslim nations whose constitution is the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and whose source of legislation is Islamic Shari’a which constitutes the Qur’an, the Sunnah, Ijma’ and Qiyass. The Qur’an is regarded by Muslims as the revelations of God descended in the seventh century on Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, over a period of twenty-two years in Mecca and then in Medina. Sunnah consists of the sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet. Those records of Prophetic words and deeds were compiled in the middle of the ninth century. Ijma’ is the unanimous consensus of Muslim jurists of a particular age on a specific issue. Ijma’ derived its authority as a source of law from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Qiyass is a restricted form of personal reasoning or interpretation; it is reasoning by analogy whereby a Muslim judge issues his ruling based on illa, the reason or effective cause that does not violate Islamic Shari’a.
In addition to the above, Saudi Arabia has another source of legislation in the form of Royal Decrees, issued by the King. Those decrees are known as rules and regulations, such as the law of corporations, commercial law, and the law organizing judiciary and others, all of which must comply with Islamic Shari’a. Royal Decrees take into consideration local and tribal traditions. There are Four Schools of Jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali. The dominant School in Saudi Arabia has been the Hanbali School. This was confirmed by a Royal edict in 1928 by King Abdul-Aziz.
According to Sction 2 of Article 5 of the Saudi Judiciary law, cases involving family law belong to the Personal Status Courts, which were known previously as Al-Mahkamah al-Jiz iyyah Lil Damaan wal Ankihat (المحكمة الجزئية للضمان والأنكحة).
Divorce Law in Saudi Arabia
Under Islamic Shari’a (law), marriage is a contract, entered into by female and male. The contract contains a provision of Mahr. Once the marriage fails, Muslim law allows the parties to separate from one another. Divorce by men is generally referred to as Talaq (repudiation). In Arabic, the verb in past tense is “tallaqa” means ‘let go’ or ‘released’ from the marriage bond. Divorce by husband can be take effect by (1) Talaq proper, and (2) Talaq al-tafweed. The first category and the most comprehensive, Talaq proper, is the husband’s right to divorce his wife by making a pronouncement that he divorces his wife and that the marriage is terminated. Talaq al-tafweed is a power of attorney given by the husband to a person to proceed with divorce on behalf of the husband.
This blanket right given to men leaves no doubt that man in Saudi Arabia enjoys more extensive rights than woman. The right of divorce granted to men must be pronounced with the intention to divorce, as for example, “Your are divorced,” or “I divorce you,” or “I have divorced you,” or “I divorce my wife forever and render her haram (forbidden) for me.” The man can divorce his wife without citing any cause. He can divorce his wife without her presence, and may not inform her of his decision. The divorce can be either revocable, which gives the husband an opportunity to reconsider the decision, or irrevocable, which is done be the third pronouncement of Talaq. When a third declaration of divorce is pronounced by the husband, at shorter intervals or immediate succession, the divorce becomes final and the parties are not allowed to remarry unless the wife marries a second man and obtain a final divorce from him.
In Saudi Arabia, the husband goes to the Personal Status Court and records his divorce in the presence to two witnesses. He obtains a divorce certificate from the judge, who is a learned man in Islamic Shari’a. The divorce certificate is authenticated by the Ministry of Justice in Saudi Arabia. You may see the form on this link: http://www.moj.gov.sa/ar-sa/Courts/eForms/Pages/frm_Divorce.aspx
The decree is then authenticated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then by the U.S. Embassy.
Recognition of a Saudi Divorce in the U.S. under the Doctrine of Comity
A divorce decree obtained in a foreign jurisdiction by resident of the U.S. is entitled to recognition under the principle of comity unless the decree offends the public policy of the state in whose jurisdiction recognition is sought. The courts in the U.S. will generally accord recognition to the judgments rendered in a foreign country under the doctrine of comity which is the equivalent of full faith and credit given by the courts to judgments of a sister state.
Comity means courtesy, respect, or mutual accommodation; in practical terms, it means that each state can decide for itself which foreign country judgments it will recognize and which it won’t. According to this doctrine, a U.S. court has the inherent power to recognize and enforce a foreign judgment of divorce unless there is some defect of jurisdiction shown to be against the public policy of the state. Absent some showing of fraud in the procurement of the foreign country judgment, or that recognition of the judgment would violate a strong public policy of the state, the court may recognize a foreign divorce judgment.
In considering whether public policy of the State is violated, the court should consider the validity of the foreign court’s jurisdiction over the parties and the similarity of the grounds for divorce with those which would be permitted in that state. And, if not, whether the grounds for divorce are repugnant to public policy of the state or not.
As Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce obtained from the Middle East, Central Asia and other Islamic nations, this author has been privileged to have been able to defend clients, successfully, by submitting legal opinions and affidavits in their support on issues related to Islamic divorce to State and Federal Courts and to Immigration Boards. Some of these cases have been reported by major U.S. law journals.
Following is a landmark case at New York Supreme Court of Westchester County, in which this author submitted an affidavit on behalf of a client. The honorable Court agreed with our argument and granted the client recognition of a divorce decree obtained in Abu Dhabi, including custody of children and a mahr of $250,000. You may read the judgment of the Supreme Court on the following link:
DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce and custody of children; Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law and Islamic law; Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in US Courts and Canada; admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; former Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.
Prof. Sawma lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State and wrote many affidavits to immigration authorities, Federal Courts, and family State Courts in connection with recognition of Islamic foreign divorces in the U.S. He also travelled to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf States, and wrote extensively on Islamic divorce in USA and abroad. Interviewed by:
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