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Major win for Saudi women as courts scrap ‘secret divorce’ and will enforce split even if husbands don’t show up

Major win for Saudi women as courts scrap ‘secret divorce’ and will enforce split even if husbands don’t show up
Saudi Arabia will now terminate marriages even if either spouse fails to show in court, ending a long tradition which favored men in terms of alimony, child custody and visitation while also ending so-called ‘secret divorce.’

Prior to this upcoming amendment to the law, husbands could refuse a divorce via a ‘no-show’ at the court hearing, regardless of whether they lived with their wife or not. The married woman was essentially bound to the marriage regardless of whether the husband had moved on and potentially even started another family. 

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“The judiciary will keep pace with the social changes taking place in the Kingdom and some of the existing laws will change,” Saudi Minister of Justice Dr. Walid bin Muhammad al-Samani said, referencing the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 programme, which includes an attempt to implement a number of social and economic reforms. 

Under current Saudi law, men have the right to a second wife but women cannot exercise the same level of freedom and, on top of this, even require a husband’s consent for a number of legal procedures, regardless of whether the couple are estranged or not. 

“The system has finally bound both spouses to appear before the court so that the rights of a woman and a child are respected following the divorce,” said Rana al-Doknan, a lawyer from Saudi Arabia.

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Divorce trials that used to last three months or more now typically take less than ten days to formally conclude. The amendment also ends the practice of so-called ‘secret divorce’ in which men could freely divorce their wives with neither the woman's consent nor knowledge. 

The Saudi Ministry of Justice recently confirmed that, on average, there are now some 4,000 divorces per month in the country, or six an hour.

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