Divorce rate in Kuwait 50pc ... and rising Huge increase seen in ‘cheating’

A good, productive and stable marriage is built on one’s ability to love someone else and make sacrifices for that person. We in this region as a whole are sometimes very materialistic and usually wealthy. Many a time couples get married for the wrong reasons. Sometimes because marriage is the new “thing to do”, it’s merely the new toy. Maybe the honeymoon period is the only highlight of the whole affair.
Lawyer Waleed Khaled Al-Dousari was talking to the Arab Times on marriages in Kuwait, exploring the causes behind the increasing rate of divorces in the society. “The rate of divorce in Kuwait has reached more than 50 per cent, and the number is still on the rise,” he adds.


Q: How would you describe marriage in Kuwait, and have the trends changed?
A: Traditionally, the ideal marriage was tribal, related families encouraging their offspring to marry cousins or other relatives in order to increase and strengthen the tribe, or occasionally to marry into another tribe in order to heal rifts between families. Another reason for such marriages was that families knew the background of the partner.
As is the case in some Latin countries, young couples in the region are allowed to meet under the watchful eyes of a chaperon. In Kuwait, however, the marriage is arranged without any part of the girl’s body (including her face) being seen by the prospective groom, who must rely on the reports of his female relatives as to his wife’s appearance.
There are three main elements in an Arab marriage. First, the groom must discuss and agree the dowry with the bride’s father. This might include gold, jewelry and clothing and is usually of considerable valuable. After the dowry settlement, comes the actual marriage contract, which is conducted by a legal or religious representative.
The bride is asked in the absence of the prospective groom if she agrees to the marriage and this question is then put to the groom. After the agreement, the groom joins hands with his future father-in-law and, with two witnesses present, the marriage becomes official.


However, there’s another stage before the couple actually meet as man and wife: the wedding party. Celebrations are segregated, with the women in one section of the house or private ballroom and the men in another. Finally, on the last night of celebrations, the couple meets, accompanied by all their friends, and eventually leaves for their honeymoon. On their return, they either live with the groom’s parents and become members of the extended family or - as is increasingly the case - set up a separate home by themselves.
According to Sharia, a Muslim man may have four wives, provided that he can look after them materially and treats them equally. This practice is now dying out, however, not only because only a few can afford it, but also because women are becoming more independent and assertive and many refuse to accept it.
In fact, a Muslim woman can insert a clause in the marriage contract that restricts her husband from marrying another woman for as long as the contract is valid. The wife also retains her own name after the marriage.
Although gender roles have always been clearly defined in the Islamic world, with the man as ‘provider’ and the woman as ‘nurturer’, both the man and the woman are increasingly going out to work, although this is much less common in Saudi Arabia, where there are restrictions on women working, except in culturally ‘acceptable’ occupations such as medicine and teaching. However, many Saudi men are reluctant to marry doctors and nurses, who have physical contact with male patients.
A man can divorce his wife simply by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times. He can rescind the divorce if this was done in the heat of the moment, but only if the wife agrees (and only on three occasions though). On the other hand, even if a wife has a good reason to seek a divorce (e.g. if her husband has been unfaithful, abused or deserted her, or engaged in criminal activity), she must go to a court for the case to be heard.
The husband must maintain a divorced wife and any children from the marriage if the wife is unable to support herself. He can claim custody of any sons when they reach a certain age; however, the priority is given to the mother, but this still depends on the sect of the couple. A female divorcee usually returns to her family, and few remarry.
Although a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam, the reverse isn’t the case. Non-Muslim women are often pressurized into converting, and there have been many cases of foreign women marrying Arabs and then discovering that the local culture and lifestyle are unacceptably restrictive. It should also be noted that, in the event of the breakdown of such a union, the children are usually kept by the husband in his home country.
Expatriate workers can usually be married in the Gulf, provided that they meet the civil and religious requirements of their home country. Embassy and consulate staff sometimes performs civil marriage ceremonies, again provided that certain requirements are met. Religious ceremonies can be arranged, but only in countries that allow churches or similar non-Muslim places of worship.
Although many young citizens in Kuwait are still seeking the blessing and help of their parents for choosing life partners, some youngsters in Kuwait prefer finding their partners without parental guidance and mediation. This approach is the result of cultural interactions. This changing trend has become quite noticeable in the countries of the region.


Q: Why are we currently encountering an increasing rate of divorce in the country?
A: A good, productive and stable marriage is built on one’s ability to “love” someone else and make sacrifices for them. We in this region as a whole are sometimes very materialistic and usually wealthy. Many a time couples get married for the wrong reasons. Sometimes because marriage is the new “thing to do”, it’s merely the new toy. Maybe the honeymoon period is the only highlight of the whole affair.
In some cases, both partners may be in need of intimacy and so they get married to have that kind of intimacy. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact in this arrangement, there is one good thing in that youngsters feel that they should “get married first” before “becoming intimate with anyone”. That’s a noble and encouraging thought.
But after the first few months or the first couple of years, we start noticing the first signs of trouble, and you see both sides contemplating the “D” word. They think “I don’t need this.” And rightly so, they really don’t need it. Both are wealthy, both have high paying jobs, their rooms in their parents’ houses are still empty and perhaps are still untouched with their original furniture in place and in tact.
Other reasons, however, come along due to the change in the definition of marriage as a whole from the perspective of both men and women. Even families in Kuwait today no longer feel shameful that their daughter or son is divorced. Some families are actually encouraging their daughters to divorce, because sometimes that divorce gives her more financial gains than she already has.
In Kuwait, it is a huge problem when a man cannot provide a luxurious life to his wife. It is his duty to provide her with the maid, driver, shopping every now and then, and the ability to travel at least on a yearly basis.

However, not all Kuwaitis are able to provide this kind of lifestyle for their wives and children.
Another issue is that of cheating. There is a huge increase in the percentage of cheating wives and husbands. It has become so easy for a husband or wife to cheat on each other, especially because marriages are neither based on love nor respect.
The high divorce rate in Kuwait insinuates that we are too spoiled to remain stuck to our marriages.
So what will happen to us in say 50 years? The world will be less dependent on our oil, and the oil will become less abundant anyway. We will become poorer in general. Isn’t that right?
We will have less materialistic “toys” to play with. And therefore we will be less spoiled. And I think we will tend to stay committed to our marriages more.
Our men will start actually doing some “work” to earn a living. And less of these jobs will be suited to women, and women will have less incentive to leave the umbrella of her husband’s (modest) financial security. Just like the times of our grandfathers and grandmothers.
Now, this might be a bleak picture, but maybe with less material distractions, and with healthier marriages, I only see us becoming happier people.


Q: So what happens, when a couple comes asking for a divorce?
A: From my experience as a lawyer, the usual scene when two couples ask for a divorce is that they come to my office in the image of two enemies who completely hate each other, and cannot even stand being in the same room with each other.
The women usually tries to file as much cases against her husband to get all the rights that she wants, and the man tries to do the same thing.


Q: What is the role of Shari’a law in divorce cases? Is there a difference between the rights that a woman may take if she was Sunni or Shi’ite?
A: In Kuwait we abide by the Islamic Sharia law when it comes to marriage or divorce. Therefore, when a couple asks for a divorce, usually there are certain proceedings that should take place.
To apply for divorce, you should be of sound mind and be able to make your own choices.
The first step the couple should do is to register the case at the Moral and Family Guidance Section at the court.
Shortly afterwards, a counselor will meet the couple and discuss their problems. They are then given a three-month time to try and solve the problems, before beginning the divorce process.
If the couple, or either of them, still insists on divorce, the papers will be forwarded to the court for the judge to study the case. The judge will discuss it with the couple and listen to the witnesses. It could take a couple of sessions before the judge makes his decision. The couple needs to attend all the proceedings.
A woman may be granted a divorce if she can prove that her husband has physically hurt her or mentally tortured her. A woman also may sue for divorce if her husband abandons her for a period of three months, or if he has not taken care of her needs or that of their children.
The law allows women to obtain a khula - a separation, when she returns the dowry to the husband.
The Sharia Court will accept a divorce lawsuit from Muslim men or Christian or Jewish women married to a Muslim and apply the Islamic laws.
If the divorce applicants are both Muslims, but from different countries and are residents in Kuwait, they will be divorced according to the administrative laws in their country, or the Kuwaiti law, whichever they wish. While Sharia is same in all Muslim countries, there are a few administrative differences between the various schools of thought.


If the couple is from the same country, the law of their country, will be applied or the Kuwaiti law may be applied, if they so wish.
If the husband is a Muslim and the woman is not a Muslim, the Kuwaiti laws will be applied, or the law of the country where they had got married will be applied.
If the couple is non-Muslim, they can seek divorce according to the law of their country, at the embassy or consulate.
There is not much difference between the two sects when it comes to divorce; there is only one main difference, and that is a Sunni women can take the custody of her children without ever having to return them to their father. However, the father can be with his children on previously arranged days. According to the Shi’ite sect, the father can take his children when the children reach the age of seven or above, by which time the children too have a say in that kind of decision.
However, even the issue of custody is abused by some women, who place a huge financial burden on the man under the pretext of asking for the children’s upkeep. Some women do so despite being financially well off themselves.


Q: Can you give us examples of some divorce cases in Kuwait?
A: One intriguing divorce case involved a woman who divorced her husband on their wedding day because she found out at the wedding ballroom that groom had not made the costly arrangements that she had asked for, and instead chose a reception that cost much.
Some women get divorced because they see divorce as a financial gain for them. Men are sometimes forced to provide his divorcee with a house, a maid, a driver, and a monthly alimony for her and her children.
In many cases the reasons are very silly, which makes it very difficult for us lawyers to take any stand on the issue. For example one woman filed for a divorce because she didn’t like the way her husband made sounds while eating.


Q: What do you think is the role of society to tackle the problem of increasing divorce rates? How can education help reduce the rate of divorce, or help couple’s understand and appreciate the true value of marriage?
A: In light of high rates of divorce cases, social authorities should play a role in educating youth about the basic criteria for sound marriages. Grassroots associations and the media in the Gulf have to educate families about potential negative aspects of coercing young males and females to marry relatives, in the first place, and also how arranged marriages can have very harmful results on both couples, especially as they might not be suitable for each other.
Most of the persons I have met expressed desire to marry non-relatives, thus affirming the idea that parents must refrain from coercion. Moreover, to by taking away the right of youngsters to choose their life partners is against religious values and common sense.
Some official reports estimate that divorce cases in Kuwait are at 50 percent, and the phenomenon has been linked to diverse factors related to modern-day developments in the country, and western concepts and values and post-oil-boom social transformations.
Most males in Kuwait tend to get acquainted with the would-be “soul mate” personally while the majority of the females favor the parents’ role in this regard.
In Kuwait, we are starting to have many welfare societies that are helping couples to refrain from divorce as much as possible. However, the problem is that we do not have the right education concerning marriage in the country.


Neither families nor schools educate children on marriage or even give them the chance to fall in love and make their own choices of who they want to get married to.
We need to set a proper age limit for marriage for both males and females, because some are getting married at a very young age, such as 17 and 18. This is also leading to the great increase in divorce rates.  The proper age for males to get married should be between 26 and 30, and that for the females should be above 20. However, that is only my opinion.
As to the qualifications of the would-be partner, the couples should believe in commitment. They should be educated. There is the need to be attracted to the physical appearance of each other and not be forced to get married to people they don’t know. Then of course financial capacities and employment are important factors. These are not the most important issues though.

biography

Born in 1983
Khaled Al-Dousari: currently a divorce lawyer at the Mohamad Saleh Al-Sabti, Lawyer Office. Started at the office in January 2007.
Graduated from the Academic Law Institute in Jordan in 2006.
Until today he has taken up to 300 cases of divorce.


By: Rena Sadeghi

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