Here's how to get divorced as an expat in Saudi Arabia...
24 October 2019| Last updated on 24 October 2019
Expats in the kingdom must proceed as per Saudi Arabia's legal system
The end of any marriage can be stressful and will not be easy, especially if you are an expat living away from your home country.
Provided both parties agree that the marriage has ended and they are happy that the divorce takes place in Saudi Arabia, the divorce itself can usually be a straightforward process. However, if both parties aren't seeing eye-to-eye about ending their marriage, it becomes complicated for the female spouse. A wife will experience more struggles than her husband to end their marriage, attributed to the kingdom's conservative laws.
Women in Saudi Arabia, both nationals and expatriates, live under the male guardianship system wherein a woman's father, husband, brother, or son has the authority to make important decisions on her behalf - from birth to death.
It was only recently that certain restrictions on women in Saudi such as driving and travelling outside the country independently were lifted.
However, other restrictions are still in place for female Saudi citizens and residents. Women in KSA require a male relative's authority when getting married, leaving prison, entering a shelter for abuse victims, and even when getting a divorce.
We'll be looking at how expat couples in Saudi Arabia can apply for a divorce, how women with Saudi husbands can officially end the marriage, and what happens if the male spouse refuses to give his consent to a divorce.
For expat women married to a Muslim
The following applies to male Saudi spouses and foreign spouses who are of the Islamic faith.
A divorce cannot be done without the consent of the woman’s male guardian, which in this case is the husband.
While a man in Saudi Arabia can quickly divorce his wife through talaq by saying "I divorce you" three times and getting the divorce verified in court, women seeking to end the marriage must convince the Saudi courts with both a reason and strong evidence of any of the following:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Criminal activity
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Drug addiction
- Failure of providing basic marital obligations such as shelter and financial support
- Abandonment of the wife
The expat woman must go to a court in Saudi Arabia for her case to be heard, of which the procedure is called a khula or khul'. A khula only happens when the husband does not approve the want for a divorce. The process is an expensive and stressful one. During the hearing, both the husband and wife must present both their cases and defense.
Once 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 of divorce are deemed valid by the court.
Refund of dowry
In the case of a khula, the husband may be entitled to financial compensation that is the initial amount of dower (mahr) given to the wife or she must refund all the dowry her husband had paid. Some men may sometimes prefer their wives to demand a khula instead of the husband pronouncing the divorce so that they can demand a return of the dower.
If instead, the husband initiated a divorce from his side, the woman receives all her rights, including any outstanding portion of her dowry and does not have to refund the sum.
After the divorce
It should also be noted that, in the event of the breakdown of a marriage, the children are usually kept in custody by the husband in his home country. Once a child is older, he or she is given the choice to decide who has custody.
If the woman hasn't remarried, she may be granted custody of their children until the child is seven to ten years old.
As long as both the spouses are on the same page, the process will be easy and will not require a lawyer.
For expats in a non-Muslim marriage
If neither the husband or wife are Muslim, the divorce will still require the husband's permission. Ending a marriage will require the expats to consult with their respective country's embassies or consulates regarding the divorce procesure, and doing so will also draw the attention of the Saudi courts who will scrutinise the need for a divorce.
It is recommended that the spouses return to their respective countries to manage the divorce.