Personal Status Laws Are The Cemetery of Justice .. Yes to Civil Courts!
No protection and no equality. Two terms that sum up the suffering of women with personal status laws in Lebanon. As discrimination prevails in all treatments, and injustice is clear on more than one level, such as divorce and its economic consequences, alimony, custody, visitation rights, and the list goes on.
There is no unified personal status law in Lebanon. Each sect has its own law applied by its courts and issues judgments and decisions that do not deviate from religion. Perhaps the age of custody is one example that clearly reflects the imbalance in the interaction between mothers and fathers.
For Islamic sects, the age of custody in the Sunni sect was set at 7 years for boys and 9 years for girls, before civil society pressures led to its amendment. It was raised to 12 years for boys and 14 for girls in 2014.
In the Shiite sect, the age of custody is 2 years for boys and 7 years for girls, and mothers lose custody completely if they are not of the father’s religion.
While the Catholic community deviated from the aforementioned ages, and set an age for breast-feeding and not for custody, children have the right to stay with their mothers for two years, after which custody will be given to the fathers. It is also conditional and temporary when it comes to mothers, as they are threatened with losing custody if they decide to remarry, and custody is then automatically forfeited. This forces many women to make the most difficult choice, which is to remain alone for life so as not to lose their children.
Worse still, and on the other hand, the law congratulates some men if they decide to remarry, and awards them custody on a silver platter as a gift to the newlyweds. Why? Because the law considers this marriage as a “family and an environment qualified to raise children,” but women remarrying is considered by society, and is stigmatized as “selfishness on the women’s part” and renders them “unqualified to raise their children,” which jeopardizes their custody rights.
Certainly, we could not explain this duality in treatment except by saying that the law marginalizes women and tries to weaken them in every possible way. The laws are tailored to men only and there is no place for women.
In an exclusive interview with the “Sharika Walaken” website, lawyer George Haddad of the “Justice Without Borders” organization confirmed, through his observations, that “mothers are exploited by the Sunni and Shiite sects, and they are pressured to give up all their rights in return for giving them custody or even divorce.”
The main reason, according to Haddad, is that “the two aforementioned doctrines give men an unjust right over mothers, which is the refusal of their request for divorce, which allows them to pressure them to give up all their rights such as dowry, custody, and even the right to see their children.”
If the women refuse, the case goes to the courts, which give the men the right to file a cohabitation lawsuit to oblige the women to cohabit with them, and they win the lawsuit without a doubt. In the event that women insist on divorce, they never receive any compensation, alimony, dowry, deferral or advance.
After custody is determined, and in the event of its loss, the mothers have an alternative solution, which is visitation with the children for a certain period decided by the court. However, this option is fraught with many obstacles. First, and most of the time, some of the men fail to bring the children on time.
And the scenario in this case is similar to that which we see in the movies. Mothers are forced to resort to the security forces to see their children by force, but the psychological factor remains the basis in this scenario, which keeps them from resorting to this way out, which carries with it a great impact on the psychological health of children. On the other hand, the decision to refrain from resorting to this solution may present them with a big problem, because some fathers may take advantage of this to convince their children that their mothers do not want to see them.
Therefore, the “Justice Without Borders” organization worked to support the mothers and was able to reach decision-makers to enforce a judicial decision that finesthe fathers every time they refuse to take the children to see their mothers on the specified dates. Pressure like that urges them to commit, because on the one hand they do not want to incur additional expenses, and on the other hand, they may be tried before the criminal court, not the spiritual one, in the event that they do not pay, which may put them at risk of going to prison.
While most of the issued rulings link between visitation, and alimony. If the custody goes to the mothers, and the fathers win visitation rights, and the children refuse to see them for any reason, they have the right to ask the court to stop the alimony as a result of not seeing their children. This would be an effective additional card in their hands to put pressure on the mothers again with the aim of regaining custody.
There are many pressure factors for women, and alimony is an additional factor that some men depend on. It is a sum of money determined by the court that men must pay to women in the event of desertion, nullity, or annulment, and it includes food, clothing, medical treatment, accommodation, and everything they need to survive.
What follows is a sample of manipulation methods to evade alimony, bearing in mind that men are able, in our societies based on fraud and manipulation of facts, to control women and their lives.
In the majority of cases, some husbands submit false work certificates, indicating that they only receive the minimum wage. As a result, the court decides a low alimony for women, which prompts them to give up several needs and live at the lowest possible costs, spending only on rent.
In a related context, some fathers are taking advantage of the economic crisis in Lebanon, to claim that they are only able to enroll their children in public schools, even though they were enrolled in a private school. The court does not have the authority to intervene and force them to pay sums that exceed their claimed “capacity” to keep the children in their school and avoid any psychological harm as a result of changing the school, thus forcing the mothers to pay the tuition.
But things are not limited to these scams only. Some men overdo themselves by using sophisticated methods to evade alimony by referring to the law that is full of loopholes that enable them to easily achieve their goals.
For example, some men accuse women of adultery if they file a divorce lawsuit against them, and they meet them with a criminal lawsuit and they are prosecuted. Lawyer George Haddad says, “The result is known. The women are taken to the Hobeish police station, they stay for two days, and then they are pressured to retract their lawsuit.”
Economic independence is essential
Women’s economic dependence on their husbands renders them hostages to their power. They have no choice but to find a job and obtain a salary or income that will enable them to rely on themselves and allow them to make their own decisions separately, on the family and marital levels.
Thanks to this, women are freed from all restrictions, and become stronger and empowered to go through the judicial path and combat corruption in order to obtain a fair ruling, noting that most women resort to civil society organizations and associations to secure lawyers and trial expenses.
In conclusion, only one thing will limit these violations, which is turning to civil courts to save women from this suffering, especially since they view the individual as a citizen, far from gender, creed, sect and social status.
Only then will the right be guaranteed and the prejudice brimmed. What is certain is that there is no weakening of one group and the strengthening of another, and all of this is possible through restraining the hand of religious and political interference.
In the event that you are subjected to any form of violence, we present, however, a list of the most prominent organizations and entities present in all Lebanese territories and ready to provide free legal, psychological and social counseling and services, at any time.
This article was published in a special file on the “Sharika Walaken” website entitled #عنف_رجال_دين (The Violence of Clergymen), which tells the stories of women and their suffering in their confrontations with clergymen and religious courts, from crimes of assault and violence in all its forms, from sexual, verbal and psychological abuse that is unspoken of, to exploitation and oppression in the corridors of religious courts based on unjust and discriminatory laws.