Saudi Arabia: You Asked, American Bedu Answers


I recently received a private email asking if I would address the following questions on my blog pertaining to relationships with Saudis. I am responding with my views and perspectives and also look forward to YOUR comments as well.

What does it really mean to be divorced in Saudi Arabia? Is “divorced” and “separated” really the same? Why divorce since man can have several wives? What is a consequence of a divorce for a woman? Will she be able to remarry? Does the hushband have to help her financially? Is a divorce recognized by other countries? Is it possible to separate without divorce? Will he remarry? With what kind of woman? Also divorced woman?

Divorce is becoming more common in Saudi Arabia and particularly among Saudis who are married to Saudis. A BBC Report from 2001 states that the Saudi courts grant 25 – 35 divorces per day and most occur within the first three years of marriage. According to the BBC study, polygamy (practice of a man being allowed to have up to 4 wives) was cited as the leading cause of divorces in the Kingdom. However the culture and customs of Saudi Arabia is not only to preserve marriages and prevent divorces, as this December 2008 Arab News article highlights, there is also a push to discourage Saudi men from marrying foreign women as well. Lastly, a January 2009 article from the Kipp Report provides further statistics such as that the divorce rate has reached more than 30 per cent of the total number of marriages during the year.

Now let me turn to the specific questions which the reader asked. There is indeed a distinction between being divorced and separated. It is not the same. When a woman is divorced in Saudi Arabia, whether a Saudi or non-Saudi, there are repurcussions. If the woman initiated the divorce and if it is granted by the courts, she would likely have to return whatever she was given as a dowry at the time of the marriage. In general, personal property and assets if not in the woman’s name are usually considered the man’s. Therefore in the case of a divorce, a woman may leave with very few material possessions in spite of how long the marriage may have lasted or regardless of what contributions the woman may have made to the home. A man is required to support his wife during the 3 month period before a divorce is declared final. However after that period, there is typically no further obligation on the part of the man. The custody of children is typically given to the father unless the children are still quite young. Then they will stay with their mother until reaching certain ages at which time the father has custody. In November 2008 the first “Saudi Divorce Initiative Forum” was held in Damman. At this forum, Saudi women spoke out candidly on the stigmas associated with divorce and needed reforms to ensure protection of the Saudi divorcee. And once a Saudi woman has divorced, this drastically reduces her chances of remarrying, and particularly remarrying as an only wife.

It is recognized that a lot of marriages in Saudi Arabia between Saudis do not work out and instead of divorcing, the man and woman actually do live separately. The couple who live separately usually do so because of incompatibilities. Their marriage was likely arranged and instead of growing together as life partners, they may have realized they had little in common, one partner or the other has traits the other strongly dislikes and cannot live with or perhaps other reasons may apply. A divorce and especially if the couple is related or the families are very close, can cause conflict and pain. Therefore, it is actually a more “culturally acceptable” choice to be separated as the woman can live on her own or with her children. Even if she is living on her own (ie, without the husband) she is viewed with greater respect than a woman who has been divorced. The extended families on either side may not be pleased with the choice but they are more likely to accept it than having a divorce in the family. If children are involved, couples usually try to avoid divorce for there is also a fear and concern that having divorced parents also puts an unnecessary stigma on the children and can impact on their choice of marriage partners too.

Why divorce since a man can have several wives? The answer to that question really depends on ones stance and viewpoint on the subject of polygamy.

A divorced woman can indeed remarry but as I stated earlier above, her chances of remarrying as an only wife diminish unless she happens to marry a widower.

If a divorce has gone through the courts then it is recognized internationally and a divorce decree would have been issued.

I believe the question of separation without divorce has been covered. But to further respond to the other questions asked, there are many cases where a man has taken another wife while being separated. And the Saudi man may take another wife from many different “categories.” She could be Saudi; she could be foreign; she could be a divorcee; she could be one who has never married. So in essence, for the husband at least, it is as if he is divorced in that he may no longer have a “husbandly” relationship with his estranged wife, but because they are separated without having divorced, he may continue to maintain her and any children. However it is clear that the new wife is truly the wife in the life of the man. The ‘first wife’ who is living separated is expected to maintain cultural norms and continue to live as a married woman apart from her husband. In other words, while the husband has made another life for himself with a new wife, she would not and could not have a male partner in her life if she is not legally divorced.

I am certainly not trying to promote divorce in any way but it is a fact that it happens. Therefore I am also including this link which provides a link of law firms which specialize in divorce in Saudi Arabia.

Will a Saudi man consider leaving KSA for a love story? Or will he not return to KSA because of a woman?

I am aware of multiple cases where a Saudi man has indeed left Saudi Arabia for a love story. Here is a sample interview of a Saudi man who chose to live with his wife outside the country. Some have returned with their foreign love to Saudi Arabia and others have chosen to remain outside of Saudi Arabia. Those who have chosen to remain outside of Saudi Arabia have done so for various reasons and most common are the couple may not have appropriate governmental approvals to live legally in Saudi Arabia as husband and wife; the wife may not agree to relocating to Saudi Arabia; the husband may not want to live in Saudi Arabia with his foreign wife.

Can a Saudi man live in a relationship without being married? Please consider this question for the eventuallity that he is not living in KSA!

There are Saudi men who have relationships without marriage. However it should be noted that all Saudis are born muslim and as a muslim, it is prohibited to live together without the sanctity of marriage. Even for the Saudi who is outside of the Kingdom, living with a woman who is a foreigner without marriage will automatically place on stigma on the relationship and particularly the woman among other Saudis and most Arabs. A woman who will agree to live with a Saudi without the benefit of marriage will likely be viewed as loose and immoral. It is also unlikely that the family members of the Saudi would accept her or such a relationship.

Saudi families are extraordinary close and very aware and cognizant of not wishing to lose face either for themselves or their family. In many cases, when learning of a Saudi who cohabitates with a foreign woman outside of the Kingdom, he is usually not sincere or plans to have a permanent relationship.

I do hope that I have fully responded to these queries and look forward to additional comments from readers as well.


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