Islamic Yemeni Divorce in USA

By Prof. Gabriel Sawma

Historical Background
Yemen is known in antiquity as Arabia Felix or Happy Arabia. It is a mountainous country having more rainfall and more fertile soil than the rest of Arabia and, therefore it was able to support a relatively dense population. During the nineteenth century, the southern part of Yemen became a British colony whereas the northern part of the country came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. By the end of World War One, North Yemen became independent from the Ottoman Empire, while South Yemen remained under British administration until it declared its independence in 1967.

The relations between the socialist South Yemen and the Western oriented North were strained at time, and conflicts occurred in 1972 and 1978-1979 between the two states. In 1990, both states were united forming the Republic of Yemen. Between May and July 1994 a new civil war in Yemen started involving the former Northern and Southern Yemeni states. The war resulted in the defeat of the southern armed forces and the flight into exile of many Yemeni Socialist Party leaders and other southern separatists.

Yemen’s population is predominantly Muslim (Sunni and Shia), with a small Jewish, Christian, and Hindu minority. Conversion from Islam to another religion is prohibited for all Muslims, and according to the laws of Yemen, a Muslim person found changing his religion is considered an apostate and subject to the death penalty. Family traditions as well as Yemeni laws may restrict a woman’s freedom of movement. Women are not allowed to obtain a passport without permission from the guardian (Arabic wali). A guardian may prevent a woman from seeking education or employment and may restrict her ability to leave home without his permission.

 

The Judiciary in Yemen
During the time where both Northern and Southern Yemen were separated, both states had their own judiciaries. But that status changed after the unification in 1990.The judicial system according to the amended constitution of 1994 declares in Article 3 that Islamic sharia shall be the source of all the laws. This means that no other law can be enacted contrary to the Islamic sharia. The constitution establishes three layers of civilian judiciary: (1) a District Court in the main centers of all the districts called the Courts of First Instance (al-mahakim al-ibtida’iyyah) which have original jurisdiction in all civil, criminal, commercial, family and administrative cases; (2) Provincial Courts of Appeals (al-mahakim al-isti’nafiyyah), found in every province as well as in the capital city of Sana. These courts hear cases at the appellate level after the Court of the First Instance has rendered its judgments; (3) The Supreme Court of the Republic (al-mahkama al-‘ulya), which is the highest court of the land.

In 1992, the government of Yemen passed Decree Law No. 20 establishing the Yemeni Law of Personal Status. The law sets the minimum marriage age for both males and females at 15 years. However, discrepancies between legal rights and actual practices are significant. For example, although the legal minimum age of marriage is 15 for males and females, violations of this law are common and early marriage is a serious problem in Yemen. The law requires a non-virgin woman who has been previously married to pronounce her consent to marriage verbally, while the law allows the silence of a girl or woman considered to be a virgin to signify her approval or consent to marriage. The law requires the wife to provide sexual access to her husband; she is required a permission of her husband to leave the house except to attend to the needs of her parents. Polygamy is legal, although the first wife must be informed if her husband is marrying another; thus a man is allowed to be married to up to four women at one time. The divorce law grants the mother custody until her children are of age (nine for male children and 12 for female) on condition of her maturity, sanity, faithfulness, moral and physical ability or if she remarries.

Islamic sharia, which is the basis of Yemen Personal Status Law allows the husband the unconditional right to divorce his wife using the “triple talaq” formula, which includes his announcement of divorce by stating three times: “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you”; or “I divorce my wife, I divorce my wife, I divorce my wife.” The husband can divorce his wife any time, any place and without having to give any reason, whereas a woman must seek a judicial divorce in which she must present adequate justification in order to end the marriage. Article 47 of the amended Personal Status Law provides women with the right to have their marriage contract nullified but only under the condition that the woman’s husband has a defect or dangerous disease, which, according to Yemeni laws includes tuberculosis, leprosy, insanity, or impotence. In all these cases, the court must agree to the separation or to nullification of the marriage contract; the wife alone has no right to separate from her husband on her own.

Women face additional challenges when travelling abroad. The ‘Passport Law’ does not have gender requirements for issuing a passport, but in practice a woman seeking a passport for travel must have a male sponsor. Personal Status Law No. 20, amended in 1998, requires wives to yield to the authority of their husbands. A wife is obligated to reside with her husband at his residence, no matter what the condition of the residence is.

 

Recognition of Yemeni Divorce in USA
Many Yemeni Muslim men with U.S. citizenship travel to Yemen in order to obtain a fast track “triple talaq” divorce according to the Personal Status Law of Yemen. They then return to the United States and seek recognition and enforcement of the Islamic Yemeni divorce in the U.S. But can such an ex parte divorce be recognized and enforced?

International law includes the question of right between nations; it also includes question arising under what is usually called private international law, or the conflict of laws, and in particular concerning the right of individuals within the territory and dominion of one nation, by the judgments issued by the courts of other nations. In theory, no law has any effect beyond the limits of the sovereignty of the nation in which the law is enacted. However, such a law can be allowed to be implemented within the dominion of another nation in what is called “the comity of nations.” Our U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Hilton v. Guyot, (159 US 113 – Supreme Court 1895) that comity , in the legal sense, “is neither a matter of absolute obligation, on the one hand, nor of mere courtesy and good will, upon the other. But it is the recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another nation, having due regard both to international duty and convenience, and to the rights of its own citizens or of other persons who are under the protection of its laws.” “The recognition of a judgment of a foreign court under the principle of comity is subject generally to two conditions: (1) that the foreign court had jurisdiction of the subject matter; (2) that the foreign judgment will not offend the public policy of our own state” (See Fantony v. Fantony, 21 NJ 525, 533, 122 A.2d. 593 ( 1956).

The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which is applicable to the states, “limits the power of a state court to render a valid personal judgment against a nonresident defendant.” (See World-Wide Volkswagen, supra, 444 U.S. at 291, 100 S. Ct. at 564, 62 L.Ed.2d at 497) (citing Kulko v. California Superior Court, 436 U.S. 84, 91, 98 S. Ct. 1690, 1696, 56 L.Ed.2d 132, 14041, 1978). When a judgment fails to conform to the due process requirements, it is void in the rendering State and is not entitled to full faith and credit elsewhere.

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; Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law and Islamic law; Expert Consultant on Islamic and Hindu Divorce in U.S. courts; admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association of Beirut; Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and Associate Member of the American Bar Association. http://www.islamicdivorceinusa.com
Editor in Chief of International Law Blog: http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com

Email: gabrielsawma@yahoo.com      Tel. (609) 915-2237

Islamic Jordanian Divorce in USA

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Islamic Jordanian Divorce in USA

By
Professor Gabriel Sawma
Background
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, following World War One, Jordan was created as an Emirate of the Transjordan under the British Mandate, which was instituted by the League of Nations. By 1946, the mandate over Jordan came to an end, and Jordan was declared the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in April 1949 with a constitution that gave the king legislative and executive powers.
Until 1918, the legal system of Jordan was part of the Ottoman Empire; it was formed of Sharia courts, which applied various Islamic schools of jurisprudence, whose interpretation of the law was greatly influenced by local traditions. This made it possible for the religious judges to allow tribal traditions (‘urf) to be applied in cases involving personal status. Like the rest of the states who were ruled by the Empire, the 1917 Ottoman Family Code was also applied in Jordan and later became the basis of modern Jordanian personal status law. It follows the Hanafi school of thought in Sunni Islam.
Jordan’s personal status law for Muslims is based on Islamic sharia, which is summarized as the unchanging body of laws representing the Quran and prophetic hadiths (sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet of Islam). Thus, Islamic sharia is recognized as part of the Jordanian law, whose application is extended to personal status law covering marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and waqf (religious institutions owned by the Muslim community).
The Judiciary in Jordan
In 1952, a new constitution was adopted in Jordan; it declares that Islam is the state religion; Jordan’s legal system was reconstructed, and the court system divided between civilian judiciary (mahakin nizamiyyah), religious courts (mahakim diniyyah), and special courts established for specific reasons (mahakim khaassah). The religious courts are subdivided into Christian and Muslim courts in the areas of marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and waqf.
Royal Decree 41, 1951 divides religious courts into two bodies: first degree (mahakim al-Bidayah), then one or more second degree courts (mahakim al-Issti’naf). The function of Islamic courts is stated in the following terms:
“Sharia courts are responsible for adjudicating personal status among Muslims and to look into disputes involving the establishment and internal administration of waqfs in the benefit of Muslims…and problems emanating from a marriage contract registered at the sharia court or any of its licensed authority, and that in accordance to what is most widely accepted from the Hanafi Jurisprudence (madhhab of Abu Hanifah) with the exceptions of any of its special laws.”
The Law of Personal Status for Muslims, No. 61 of 1976 codified the provisions of Islamic jurisprudence as it pertains to family relations, from engagement through marriage dissolution. Thus, personal status law of Jordan deals in disputes involving Islamic marriage contracts, divorce, child custody, guardianship (wali), inheritance, payment of blood price, mahr (amount of money or its equivalent the husband promise to give his bride if she agrees to marry him), spousal support (nafaqah), and any dispute that results from the marriage contract.
Jordanian law sets minimum marriage age of sixteen for men and fifteen for women. Under-age marriages are, nevertheless, validated under certain conditions. The consent of the guardian is required for a female under the age of eighteen, but not for a divorced wife or widow over eighteen. Although the Jordanian law requires the consent of the bride’s guardian to her first marriage, the judge (qadi) can override the guardian’s refusal if it has no justification according to the law. Marriages and divorce are required by law to be recorded in special registrars with the proper authority under penalty.
Polygamy is allowed in Jordan in compliance with Islamic sharia; under this rule, a man may marry up to four wives at the same time, provided that he secures separate dwelling to each wife. There is no requirement that an existing wife be notified of a subsequent polygamous marriage by her husband. The law requires the husband to pay a higher fee for registering a polygamous marriage than that of a monogamous union.
As for custody of children, the Hanafi School of jurisprudence mandates that in case of divorce or death of the husband, children belong to the husband and his family. In such a situation, the mother’s custody of her son ends when he reaches the age of seven and her daughter when she reaches the age of nine. The religious court may extend that period for more years.
Islamic Divorce Law in Jordan
Divorce is known in Arabic as talaq. As elsewhere in the countries who apply Islamic family law, marriage comes to an end when a divorce is uttered three times by the husband at his own will. He may announce the divorce in any place of his choosing, with or without a reason, and no judicial supervision is required. The presence of his wife is not necessary for a divorce to take effect. The words used by the husband to divorce his wife should be expressed clearly to indicate a divorce. He can say, for example: “you are divorced, you are divorced, you are divorced”, or “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you”, or “my wife is divorced, my wife is divorced, my wife is divorced”. When uttering these words, the divorce becomes final, and the marriage will end immediately. Such a divorce is irrevocable; the husband cannot remarry his wife until she is married legally to a second man and then divorced from the second husband.
The divorce can be pronounced orally, by phone, via text message or by any means of communication in the presence of two male witnesses, or one male and two female witnesses. The witnesses are required to be Muslims. Under Islamic sharia, the testimony of one male is equivalent to two female witnesses.
As to women who seek divorce, the rules are different. A woman may seek judicial divorce under Islamic sharia if her husband delegated his wife to do so (tafweed el-talaq). This kind of divorce must be provided in the marriage contract; it implies that the husband gives his wife the authority to divorce herself under certain specified conditions. The wife may also seek Khul’ divorce, whereby she relinquishes her right to the mahr or to any financial compensation; a divorce may be obtained by mutual consent of both parties. It should be noted that any kind of divorce initiated by women has to be done through the judiciary.
Under the rules of Islamic sharia, the wife may seek judicial divorce if the husband disappeared for a long period of time, or if he neglects his wife by not providing her with maintenance, or if he has been sentenced to jail for a long period of time, or if he was impotent at the time of marriage and continued to be so after the marriage, or if the husband has been insane for a period of time or is suffering from leprosy or a virulent disease.
While the husband can end his divorce within a few minutes by uttering a divorce without the intervention of the court, the wife, on the other hand, has to go to the religious court to obtain a divorce (faskh).  Judicial divorce initiated by the wife may take years to obtain.
Recognition of Islamic Jordanian Divorce by U.S. Court
Recognition of an ex parte divorce decree obtained in Jordan is not governed by the Full Faith and Credit Clause, but rather by the doctrine of “comity”, which may be broadly defined as the respect which the U.S. family courts render to the legal proceedings and judgments of other sovereign foreign nations. By ex parte it is meant that the other spouse neither participated in the divorce proceeding, did not make an appearance in the proceeding, nor was personally subject to the jurisdiction of the divorcing court. Divorces obtained in this manner are generally not recognized by U.S. courts but may be immune from attack by virtue of the estoppel doctrine. The reason usually given for no recognition is that jurisdiction for divorce is dependent upon the domicile of at least one of the spouses in the divorcing state, and the divorce will not be recognized without jurisdiction over the subject matter. The law to be applied in such cases is the law of the state of the domicile of the couples at the time the foreign divorce was obtained.
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 technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background; admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association of Beirut in 1970; Associate Member of the N.Y. State Bar Association; Associate Member of the American Bar Association. Professor:  Middle East Constitutional Law; Professor of Islamic law. Expert consultant on recognition and enforcement of foreign divorce judgments in the USA, http://www.islamicdivorceinusa.com
Editor in Chief of International Law Blog: http://www.gabrielsawma.blogspot.com

Email: gabrielsawma@yahoo.com     Email: gabygms@gmail.com

Tel. (609) 915-2237