Editor, PlanetArabia Magazine
The recent attempt by an Australian mother to “rescue” her children from the grip of her husband in Lebanon turned the spotlight to an old ongoing problem which plagues societies all over the world: the after effects of divorce.
“Divorces often turn ugly,” says lawyer Marie Therese Skaff, “amicable settlements between husband and wife, particularly when it comes to the custody of children, are rarely seen, and child custody is mainly contested by both spouses and decided upon by a judge,” she adds.
Family law in Lebanon is very complicated because of the different religious sects.Different rules are applied by different Shari’ah (jurisprudence) courts. Christian courts follow their own version of the family law, while Sunni, Shi’a and Druze courts apply Islamic Shari’ah.
Lawyer Moussa Hammoud says “the outcome in courts is usually pre-determined, as judges routinely award custody of girls under thirteen and boys under twelve to the mother, and order custody to be transferred to the father after that age, or if the mother remarries.”
Divorce in Lebanon is increasing rapidly. On average there were 4,927 divorces happening annually between 2000 and 2010. However between 2000 and 2005 the average number of divorces each year was 4,378 and after 2005 this number increased to an annual average of 5,587 divorces. In 2010 however, there were 5,897 registered divorces, that is 1% fewer than in 2009.
Rulings of alimony and child support are in most cases not enforced. “The divorced mother is usually left with few options to support her children when the father stops or refuses to pay alimony and child support, and the courts cannot force the father to comply,” Moussa points out.
“A father may stop paying alimony to force the mother to turn custody over to him when she can no longer provide for them, or if he believes she is planning to remarry, or simply for being irresponsible, but often fathers, having remarried, cannot afford to support two homes, and prefer to have their children with them under the same roof,” Skaff remarks.
Visitation rights are also often not observed. In-laws or the stepmother, when the father remarries, prefer not to have anything to do with the divorced wife. The stepfather, in the event the mother remarries, also does not want to have anything in common with the ex-husband. The mother and the children end up paying the price.
“Psychological effects on children are often overlooked. Lebanon does not have sufficient social workers to deal with the problem, and the Lebanese people continue to regard a psychiatrist as someone who is there solely to treat the mentally ill or the insane. Children end up burying their pains, but those pains tend to surface at a later stage in their lives, reflecting on their children and their social relations,” Skaff adds.
The irony of divorces is that both husband and wife, in all religions and in all sects, promise to love and honor one another. The three religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, all demand that the spouses continue to treat each other with fairness and respect during and after the marriage ends.
The Holy Quran says in Surat Al-Baqara, 2:231 “When ye divorce women, and they fulfil the term of their (Iddat), either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; but do not take them back to injure them, (or) to take undue advantage; if anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul.”