Divorced Women in Jordan Suffer from Lengthy Legal Procedures Children Face the Tough Dilemma of Choosing Between their Parents

16 November 2009

After visiting the religious courts for over two years, Umm Samira, 33, who lives in Amman, gave up the custody of her children in June 2009, and agreed to marry the first man who proposed. Her decision was the result of a long and fruitless journey within the judicial system, in an attempt to gain a measly support payment of no more than JD 205 per month (1JD=$1.5) from her ex-husband, to assist in supporting her and her four children.

Um Samira’s ordeal is no less than that faced by Shadia Mohammad, who is raising three children despite being only 28 years of age. The committee of experts, assigned to her case by the judge of the religious court of Middle Amman zone, decided at the beginning of 2009, that she is to receive JD27 as monthly child support for each of her three children and JD15 as the mother’s custody compensation. Despite the paltry sum, the family only receives it intermittently. In fact, Shadia, who had been divorced for a year, says that she was forced to have her ex-husband served notice six times in six months because he was not paying her for child support. He was apprehended only once, and forced to pay a single time before being set free again and reverting to non-payment of the required monthly amount. According to the 1976 Personal Status and Family Law, women (whether married or divorced) may complain to the religious judiciary if a man refuses to support his family financially.

There are two stages for processing such a complaint: Initially, a ruling is issued requiring the husband to pay support. The second stage is the enforcement of this ruling, through serving the defendant with notice by the notification department of the religious courts. Women face many difficulties during the second stage, where they encounter many obstacles and delays due to the deficiencies in the mechanisms involved in collecting support payments.

This investigative report documents some of these problems. Suffering shared by women and children Samira (13 years) lost consciousness in April of 2009 during a hearing at Amman’s Al-Abdali Shari’ah Court, in a case raised against her by her father for refusing to reject her mother’s custody and to join him instead. This child, who was denied child support by her father as a form of punishment for choosing her mother over him, “suffered intensely” according to her mother, who also affirms that “Samira’s performance in school has dropped significantly, and she has been negatively affected by her father’s behavior, becoming more introverted and insular”. This reporter received a letter through a women’s and children’s rights activist that highlighted the problems faced by women and children when it came to actual enforcement of support and alimony rulings, within the religious court system.

The writer of the letter refers to the exploitation, by the courts clerks, faced by a woman seeking to follow up on a ruling; she is forced to wait for several hours to receive the support payments, sometimes as a cash payment, but other times in the form of an endorsed cheque, which she is often unable to cash.

The difficulties and suffering endured by Um Samira, her daughter, Shadia and the writer of the letter are similar to those endured by thousands of women and children living on the periphery of society. According to the statistical report released by the Supreme Judge Department in the Kingdom, there were 4024 child support cases registered in the Jordanian religious courts in 2007, as well as 4957 cases related to women whose husbands refused to support the family financially.

Judicial Enforcement is a “graveyard for cases” The National Center for Human Rights (NCHR), in a report published in 2006, reveals observations that confirm complaints made by those women. The report indicates the lack of court officers — 33 of them cover 13 religious courts in the capital Amman. The report, entitled “The Role of Human Rights in Establishing Justice”, uncovers the widespread occurrence of bribery among court officers. It also mentions the common use of the expression “cases’ graveyard” among lawyers to describe the enforcement of court rulings, indicating the unnecessary increase of suffering endured by those involved in disputes, caused by “slow procedures, the high number of cases as well as the low performance levels in the courts”, especially in the capital (see annex).

This reporter interviewed 180 women seeking the help of religious courts of Amman. Fifty percent of the women confirmed that the court officer had demanded money in order to deliver the court notice to the defendant, and that 72% considered that the legal enforcement process as too lengthy and unnecessarily stalled and disorganized. (See attached study results). One of the women interviewed, Mrs. Ruba Hasan, had much to say about the “corruption” of some of the court officers. She had to pay “a minimum” of  JD5 every time she needed to have notice served on her ex-husband to force him to pay the required child support. She, also, accused some of the courts’ administrative staff of immoral intentions; she was often asked for “her personal phone number”, in an attempt to take advantage of her situation by exploiting her need to complete the necessary paperwork. Such accusations were reiterated by 18% of those interviewed, who also confirmed that they had been “exploited by administrative employees in the legal enforcement departments, because of their financial need and lack of knowledge regarding legal issues” In response to the study report, the Supreme Judge Department  issued a “written reply” in which the Supreme Judge , Dr. Ahmad Helayel, replied that the “delay in processing, if it in fact exists, is due mainly to the incomplete paperwork necessary for the successful completion of the application, or to causes outside the court’s power.

For example, the delay in serving the notice is often due to the defendant providing the wrong address” The department’s reply, in which the Supreme Judge stressed that the religious courts take all necessary measures to ensure “accuracy and order” in its work and its avoidance of “beaurocracy”, came after a full two weeks’ delay! Problems of Serving Notice: The Ex-Husband’s Avoidance and Procedural Obstacles Widad Al Najidein, the lawyer and legal consultant in the International Institute for Women’s Solidarity stresses that such delays are the cause of several months’ delay in delivering support payments to the beneficiaries. She adds that “for the duration of the delay, the woman and her children remain without support, and this problem is multiplied manifold with the lack of another source of financial support for the family”. Asma Khodr, the Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women’s Affairs, shares this opinion. The former lawyer and government media spokesperson confirms that the woman demanding support is forced to “pay additional amounts for bringing a fresh case to the courts every time the ex-husband escapes his commitments”. Men’s Confessions A father of four children, Ahmad Ali, admits to procrastinating in making support payments to “pressure his ex-wife to give up custody” of their children. However, he also says that “he had been forced into making the support payments when an arrest warrant was issued (imprisonment)”. In fact, this man, who is in his forties, was prevented from traveling until he had paid the requisite support amount.

The thirty-year-old Muhyee Zaydan is not reticent about urging his lawyer to “use any legal loop-hole to minimize or avoid the payable child support amount where possible”. Despite being well-off financially, Zaydan is betting on his lawyer’s “skill, on the one hand, and on the possibility of misleading the courts by any means, whether legal or illegal”.

The Low Salaries of Court officers are a Cause for Corruption In an interview with an enforcement officer and other court officers in Al Balqa Governorate court (names withheld to protect their job security), they all agreed that there is a deficiency in the performance of the enforcement agents due to “difficulties in transportation”. The assigned transportation allowance JD20 a month, which is insufficient to cover even one work week, during which the agent serves an average of 8 notices per day, according to enforcement agents.

Transportation allowances are increased annually by only one JD. Unprecedented increases in transportation costs, reaching 20-30% according to official statistics, have only served to deepen the problem. The court officer (A.K) admits that “corruption” is wide-spread among his colleagues, but he justifies it by saying: “Clerks have no means of transportation at their disposal to enable them to perform their jobs well”. (A.K.) says that he had requested the department of the Supreme Judge to register a scooter, which he would buy with his own private funds, in the department’s name, to enable him to perform his duties in a timely fashion, but his request had been denied. His colleague had also requested that they be provided with an official status through the provision of uniforms, a unified mode of transportation as well as an ID card indicating that they represent an official organization. This would ensure that that they are not harassed nor regarded with suspicion while performing their official duties, as is the case now.

This reporter interviewed 20 court officers in Amman. Twenty per cent of them said they “ask for money” from the applicants of the case in order to serve notice to the defendant. They also asserted that the transportation allowance allocated to them is insufficient for the proper fulfillment of their daily duties. They all indicated that the lack of vehicles specifically assigned for the purpose of serving notices is a major hindrance in their jobs.  The survey revealed that 40% of court officers, assigned to serving notices, “sometimes” forego some notices due to “weak supervision”, since they serve notice “alone” and without the presence of a court supervisor, using their own cars or public transportation. Furthermore, 30% of those surveyed in the sample admitted that they “may respond to inducements offered by the defendant in the case, such as gifts or services, in order not to serve notice on the particular defendant”. Mohammad Nai’m, a specialist in divorce and child support/custody cases – a Sharia lawyer – indicates that the court officer may not serve notice due to “low transportation allowances relative to the volume of notices to be delivered”. He compares between the conditions of the Jordanian court officers to that of their Gulf counterparts, who are provided with special vehicles to perform their official duties. Nai’m calls on the department of the Supreme Judge to make use of a “private postal company” to serve such notices, against a fixed fee, as is now practiced by the Ministry of Justice.

The Mufti’s Opinion Asking for money from the claimant is considered “evil and a sin”, according to the Mufti of the Kingdom, Dr. Noah Al-Kudat. Dr. Al-Kudat considers that the loss of claimants’ rights is due to deviating from the Islamic Shari’ah law. Upgrading of Court officers’ Skills – What is the truth? On enquiring further from the department of the Supreme Judge about its stance regarding “the spread of bribery” among court officers, the Supreme Judge replied that they would not hesitate to take the harshest measures against any employee who does not fulfil his duties correctly or who abuses his official position”. He, further, clarified that “court officers undergo regular training sessions”. However, the training courses and workshops organized by the training and development unit did not exceed 17 activities during the entire year of 2007.

An enforcement officer at one of the religious courts denies that either he or any of his colleagues have ever attended any training courses or workshops during his entire 15 year career. Overloaded Judges:  40 Cases Daily and Only One Clerk A report by the NCHR, issued in 2007, disclosed that there is a shortage of the number of judges and their administrative assistants. A judge may see 40 cases every day while having only one court clerk at his disposal. This lengthens the time necessary to effectively study cases and affects their outcome, according to the afore-mentioned report. According to the records of the department of the Supreme Judge, the religious courts processed 50,000 cases in the year 2007, despite employing only 62 judges. The former judge and Sharia lawyer, Rateb Al-Dhaher, stresses that a judge is unable to effectively review more than 15 cases a day to ensure that he is able to render a just and equitable judgment. Any increase in the optimum case load may lead to non-deliberate errors in judgment. Dr. Helayel, the Supreme Judge also admits that there is a discrepancy between the number of available judges and the case loads they have to deal with. He points out that there are plans to inject the judicial system with all necessary resources and categories of staff. Errors in Serving Notice Samia Al Harasees submitted a notification on 3/11/2008 to the enforcement officer of Amman Religious Court, in order that he would send a court officer to serve notice on her ex-husband for the due support payment. The court enforcement officer “asked her to deliver the notification herself, which wasted even more of her time and effort to no avail”, as she says. On asking Mr. Issa Al Marazyq, a lawyer at the NCHR, about the legality of such a procedure, he replied that it is “illegal” (see attached notification).

Courts without Adequate Facilities Umm Fadel (57 years), who had been separated from her husband for three years, has great difficulty in climbing the stairs of  Middle Amman Zone Religious Court, when she goes to collect her monthly JD40 support amount. As she suffers from chronic arthritis, she is at a loss as to where to rest, during the several hour wait in front of the accounting counter. In the absence of a waiting room in the court, she is forced to sit on the bare floors. Buthaina Freihat, the lawyer in charge of divorce and child support/custody cases at the NCHR indicates that “most religious courts lack basic facilities despite the fact that most of their visitors tend to be women, children and the elderly”.

A field visit of ten religious courts out of thirteen in Amman, reveals that eight of those courts have neither separate waiting rooms nor elevators. It also appears that only three out of those ten court buildings are smoke-free, despite a smoking ban in all public buildings. The writer of the report also noticed that the religious court of East Amman zone lacks toilet facilities. The toilets in both Sahab suburb and the Middle zone in Amman were filthy, and neither court has waiting rooms. Loan Fund : A stalled solution Khawla Al Ali asked a pertinent question without realizing that human rights organizations and lawyers have been demanding this solution for years. She asked: “Why don’t they set up a special banking institution, where we are able to receive our support payments without having to go back to the courts, thus saving us much time and effort?”

The Jordanian National Commission for Women has drawn up a draft law for what is referred to as“ Support Payments Loan Fund”, which enables women to take out a loan in cases where there is difficulty in carrying out a support judgment due to the disappearance of the ex-husband or to the difficulty of locating his exact address or due to the lack of funds available to the husband or to his avoidance of payment. The financial resources for such a fund would be made available from the government budget, and would be considered as “fiscal funds”, and therefore, the government would be responsible for collecting the requisite support amounts from the defendants (ex-husbands), as they will be considered as owing the government directly for the amounts. However, the issue of allocating funds from the governmental budget for such a fund has resulted in the project being set aside. It caused the draft law to undergo endless discussions for several years, and, therefore, to be suspended in limbo, according to the lawyer, Issa Al Marazyq. Dr. Helayel,  the Supreme Judge is sure that there is a plan for the establishment of the fund in cooperation with the official parties.

However, he did not indicate a time frame nor did he discuss any concrete steps being taken towards to making this fund a reality. Support Payments that do not Cover Expenses Umm Ahmad, a mother of four, brought a case against her ex-husband to Amman Religious Court in 2007, and won a ruling giving her a monthly support payment of JD 200. She spends the amount as follows: JD110 for rent and JD40 for utilities. The remaining JD50 are supposed to cover all other living expenses for her and her four sons, including food, education, medical services, clothing and daily allowance.

Umm Ahmad bitterly discusses the purchase of a brand new car by her ex-husband, one week before the support payment hearing. She further mentions that his comfortable financial situation allowed him to marry another woman and to spend a honeymoon in Egypt. Another case, Rasha Adel, a mother of a first grader, receives JD50 as child support for the living and educational expenses for her child, although the father of the child receives a salary of JD1000, in addition to the extra income he receives from his private business.

According to the Personal Status and Family Law, support payments are set according to the financial ability of the ex-husband, and may be increased or decreased depending on his financial status.

However, the support amount is not supposed to go below the minimum amount required to provide a basic standard of living for the ex-wife and the children. In an official 2007 report, issued by the department of the Supreme Judge, the average support payment is between JD40 and JD50 for the ex-wife, and JD30 –  JD35 for each child. These figures are “below the minimum living standard”, according to the economic analyst, Husni Ayesh, who points out that “ the beneficiaries of these support payment amounts would be below the poverty line if they had no other sources of income”. Ayesh quoted an inflation rate of 15.5% in 2008, as well as to a quadrupling of the average income in the last 30 years. A field study which included 180 women with support cases, found that 93% of them feel that the amounts they receive are insufficient.

Rateb Al Dhaher, the lawyer and former judge, referred what he calls “the misunderstanding of the legal (fiqh) concepts in estimating support amounts”. He stressed that most parties in a court case link an equitable support payment amount to the sufficiency condition (the minimum standard of living), without regard to the man’s financial prosperity or lack thereof. Discontinuing Child Support Payments for Girls – An Injustice Supported by the Law Nisreen, a teenage girl of 15 years, hid underneath the seat in her mother’s car as soon as she spotted her father in a nearby car. This behavior would indeed be odd if it were not for the fact that the girl was scarred by the scene in the court, during which her father requested the discontinuance of her child support payments in revenge for the fact that she preferred to stay with her mother. According to her mother, Iman, a lawyer and a mother of three girls and a boy, who are all in her custody, her many attempts at repairing the father’s image were unsuccessful because her daughter was marked by the father’s vengefulness and lack of paternal concern in depriving her of the few dinars that he paid as child support. What Nisreen’s father did was neither crooked nor illegal, because article No. 165 of the Family Law states that: “ If a female child who is required to follow her legal guardian, rebels and refuses to join the said guardian without justification, she forfeits her right to financial support by the said guardian”.

The Secretary-General of the national Council for Family Affairs, Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazallah, asserts that this article “punishes the female child in the case where she chooses the mother’s custody over the father’s”. Abu Ghazalah further questions: “If her mother is poor, how is she supposed to support her?” Abu Ghazalah was not satisfied with denying the legality of this law article, but asserts that it contradicts article 27 of the United Nations  Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), that Jordan ratified in 1990. This article states that:

  1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
  2. The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s development.

Umm Samira and her daughter suffered the discontinuance of child support for girls because the support payment of JD200 was reduced to JD160 JD, after Samira refused to leave her mother and move in with her father.

This forced the mother to give up her custody of her children and to return them all to their father’s custody, without regard to their individual preferences. This reporter attempted to speak with Samira after the court hearing, but was unable to approach the girl, as she was in a highly emotional state; Samira said repeatedly: “Why did my father do this? Am I not his daughter?” Sa’adi Ushta, the Shari’ah lawyer, is of the opinion that the legislators did not adhere to fairness in legislating this article. He also criticized the use of the word “rebelled” or “rebellion” in the article with regard to female children who are not yet fully adult.

The Supreme Judge, Dr. Ahmad Helayel, does not agree that this article is unfair. He considers it “a means of safeguarding both the girl’s and the father’s rights at the same time”; he explains that the father “has the right to the custody of his daughter who has reached puberty”, and if the girl refuses “without legal cause, it becomes necessary to take legal action against such refusal in order that legal decisions are protected from disorder”. On the other hand, Helayel  admits that the term “rebellion” is “undesirable”, and asserts that his department is in the process of preparing a new draft Family Law, using the word “refusal” instead “rebellion” in the article concerning the discontinuance of the child support payments.

This investigative report was supported by ARIJ under Jordanian coach Saad Hattar


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