Saudi Arabia: World’s Highest Divorce State

According to a recent article published in the Emirates News, Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest divorce rate with a divorce occurring every thirty minutes.  The timing is based on the 18,765 recorded divorces during 2010.  The word “recorded” brings into question on whether more divorces took place but which remain “unrecorded.”

It is not as simple as saying “Talaq, talaq, talaq” three times consecutively and a couple is instantaneously divorced and free from one another. Doing such is actually viewed as un-islamic and out of context of the Quran. A divorce under Islam has three stages which are initiation, reconciliation and completion. These stages should take up to three months (minimum) before a judge officially rules a couple as divorced.

News reports where one might hear of a woman being divorced by SMS text message or overnight are gross exaggerations of how a divorce under Islam takes place.  All efforts are to be made to reconcile a couple before the request for divorce would even reach the stage of going before a judge.

Divorces in Saudi Arabia have wider consequences than irreconcilable differences between a couple.  When a couple marries in Saudi it is generally a joining of families.  Honor and face of a family (or tribe) may be at stake when a couple divorce.  There is always a cost to the Saudi woman who becomes a divorcee.  She may lose regular access to any children.  She must have a male mahrem who is responsible for her and her actions.  If she is perceived as responsible for a divorce from an honorable and respectful man she may become ostracized from her own family and society.  Yet who really knows for sure what may have happened within the privacy of the walls of a divorced couples home which led to the choice to face possible shame and alienation?

There are Saudi couples who realize they cannot live together as a husband and wife.  Rather than divorce and face external repercussions from family and society they quietly choose to live separate lives.  The wife and children may remain in the home provided during the marriage but the man will live apart.  Or the wife and children may shift to the area where the wife is from and the man remains in a separate city near his employment.  Face and honor are saved.  “After all, he works so hard or travels so much it is kind and honorable of him to allow his wife live near to her family.”  The innate private nature of Saudi’s and their society allow this illusion of marriage to continue with very few, even within a family, to know the true circumstances of dissent between the couple.

20 Responses

  1. Freedom of choice, respect for the individual to be in charge of her/his life and livelihood, to be free to determine his/her destiny and the establishment of non-sectarian codified rule of law will solve most of Saudi social illnesses.

    This means people have to participate in the decision making processes hold authority accountable for its action. Tell that to the King and his Mufti.

  2. I wish article like this would publish meaningful statistics with sources.

  3. I wish article like this would publish meaningful statistics with sources.

    Jerry, here’s an article from today’s saudi gazette, which gives a lot more stats:


  4. Im thinking those divorce stats would be much higher due to the fact that there are many many women who wish to divorce their husbands in the Arab world, therefore Saudi, and neither the judge nor the husband will allow her too. They are prisoners in their own marriages. I speak from personal experience.

    So, if women were given the unilateral right to divorce just because THEY want too and her husband or the judge they face has no right to tell them go home and suck it up…how many more divorces would there be I wonder?

  5. I always hear divorce issue here in Riyadh. Mostly of my patient telling me that they are already divorce and they are happy now being divorced. I felt bad for them while listening to them. its always too late when you realize something will not work out. but there are some of them also are successful to their marriage life. many things why marriage wont last. main thing is they have differences and without giving understanding, respect, or let say give and take (meet halfway) the love will wear off. coldness in the relationship of a couple will be present. Then they think that the best way to go back to their normal life is the DIVORCE.

  6. I find it quite astounding. As the article states, one must go through certain phases before a divorce is signed, sealed and ready for delivery.
    I thought KSA would be much lower as women have greater trouble filing. I really cannot make sense of this at all. I thought the US had the highest rate…

  7. Add to the list.

    Breast cancer in Saudi Arabia is four times higher than anywhere else. Obesity and high blood pressure among Saudi women rank among the highest as well.

  8. Somehow i cannot reconcile Saudi and the highest divore rate together..

  9. JACEY: I thought the US had the highest rate

    Actually, Sweden has the highest divorce rate with the US in 7th place at 45%. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and many other third world muslim countries are not mentioned in many studies, due to poor record keeping.

    India has the lowest divorce rate at 1%. Which brings me to the following question: Hey India, WHAT’S YOUR SECRET???

    Sweden 54%
    Belarus 52
    Finland 51
    Luxembourg 47
    Estonia 46
    Australia 46
    United States 45
    Denmark 44
    Belgium 44
    Austria 43
    Czech Republic 43
    Russia 43
    United Kingdom 42
    Norway 40
    Ukraine 40
    Iceland 39
    Germany 39
    Lithuania 38
    France 38
    Netherlands 38
    Hungary 37
    Canada 37
    Latvia 34
    Moldova 28
    Slovakia 26
    Portugal 26
    Switzerland 25
    Bulgaria 21
    Slovenia 20
    Romania 19
    Poland 17
    Singapore 17
    Greece 15
    Croatia 15
    Spain 15
    Israel 14
    Albania 10
    Azerbaijan 10
    Italy 10
    Georgia 6
    Armenia 6
    Turkey 6
    Bosnia and Herzegovina 5
    Macedonia 5
    Sri Lanka 1
    India 1


  10. So much for arranged marriages and not knowing your husband or wife and not knowing how to carry on a meaningful relationship or association with members of the opposite sex!!!

  11. The notion of arranged marriages in india and how they work are totally false, Look @ arranged marriages in india like maybe
    once they families meet and couples meet, they go out and date – boy oh boy do they date..
    My oldest niece had an arranged marriage last yr, the boy was introducted by the parents, it took the couple about 3 months and god only knows how many coffees and lunches to agree to marry. and then they had a 7month long engagement where my sister complained that she rarely saw my niece . Apparently there is no restaurant the couple have not visited:-)

    so arranged marriages in india doesn’t necessarily mean they have no interaction, + most school adn colleges are co-ed and hence both sexes are very comfortable with the other — no shyness there

    the divorce stats in india is rising and that is a good thing !!! women who are unhappy in their relationship and men too need to leave rather than bear the torture, we have 1 life to live and must try to live it happily, why hang on to a lost cause just to please society

  12. As awful as this sounds I’m so happy to see this because I have so many fights with Saudi men on American women vs Saudi women on who keeps a marriage together longer.

    I find it ironic that they never think perhaps it has anything to do with the husbands.

  13. Saudi is so ‘special’ when it comes to segregation of the sexes and family life isn’t it???

  14. I find this very interesting, but not altogether surprising. I think a lot of it depends on what the society teaches and, possibly more importantly, what the individual was taught about relationships by his/her family.

    One other thing to take into consideration is that in some Western countries and/or places it is quite common for people to live together for 5 years then split up when the “honeymoon period” is over without ever marrying. Since couples would not normally live together before marriage in KSA, it may explain for some differences. Also, I would imagine as others have pointed out, the separation of men and women may be a contributing factor.

    I have mixed feelings about arranged marriages. I don’t like the idea of either extreme: that of serial (sexual) dating for fun and that of strict arranged marriage where the bride is only seen after the wedding. Although sometimes, either extreme ends up working out for people.

  15. The missing discourse in this topic as in many others is the phrase “Freedom of Choice.” Saudi women (including the richest and most educated) have no choice in anything of significance. Their lives and livelihood are controlled by men from cradle to grave.

    As I have said before, this has very little to do with religion and tradition and more with politics and economics. Read below.

    Barring Women, again?

    CDHR’s Analysis: The Saudi government’s announcement on March 28, 2011, that women will again be barred from running for office or voting in the cosmetic national municipal elections scheduled for April 19, 2011, is logically, socially and politically inept, especially at this time when glaring realities demand application of basic common sense and prudent survival instincts. Cannot the Saudi autocratic and theocratic ruling class see that the Arab World, including bordering countries, is embroiled in unprecedented revolts against oppression, corruption and marginalization, especially of women? Saudi Arabia could win the Arab World’s trophy for its contempt for women.

    The explanation Saudi officials gave for barring women from participating in April’s municipal elections was neither credible nor believable, “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections.” Who are ‘we’? Government, some women, some segments of society ‘are not ready’ or is it a lack of time to prepare segregated booths? In 2005, when the first municipal elections were held, the authorities said they did not have time to construct segregated voting booths for women to vote. Saudis don’t have time on their hands?

    It’s a fact that there are a fair number of Saudi men and women who hold unfavorable views of women. It’s also a fact that such unnatural, inhumane and destructive perception is encouraged and perpetuated by the Saudi educational, social, political, judicial and religious institutions, all controlled by the two families, Al-Saud and Al-Alshaikh, who have ruled the country from its inception.

    Luckily, there is a very simple solution to the institutionalized and perpetuated social war against Saudi women. Since the King and three other brothers have the ultimate say in what should or should not happen in their domain, they can easily initiate a law, or even a royal decree, that unambiguously states: We the king of this holy land decree that women who wish to vote can go to the same booths as men and do so and women who don’t want to vote have the right to stay home. Neither those who choose to vote nor those who don’t want to vote can be subjected to any compulsion from anyone.

    This will work because in Saudi Arabia, royal decrees and wishes cannot be ignored because that would be considered un-Islamic and the consequences can be lethal.

  16. Divorce rates in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)countries, including Saudi Arabia, have risen dramatically in recent years and continue to rise, with an adverse effect on children, families, and society as a whole. Divorced women, in particular, suffer considerable social and economic discrimination.

    This rising divorce rate is caused by a range of economic, social, and cultural factors that have had a negative effect on the institution of marriage. Paradoxically, both the challenges of modernization and the traditional norms of arranged and early marriages play a role in the rising divorce rate.

    Individual GCC countries have taken various legal and social steps to halt the rising divorce statistics and to improve the position of divorced women. However, the lack of implementation of existing legislation that protects the rights of divorced women has been a significant social constraint.

    It is essential that governments give serious consideration to implementing international laws in conjunction with local regulations and monitoring them effectively and consistently—in particular, a codified personal status law. Governments could also promote information and counseling programs on divorce and the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of marriage.

    Here’s the link to a recently completed report by Booz-Hamilton (2010):

  17. This is interesting. Since divorce seems to be seriously frowned upon in this society, I thought the divorce rate would be relatively low. However, when comparing some other societies to Saudi, like in America, there are other forms of relationships that can go on without individuals getting married that may not necessarily be a fair way to compare divorce rates. For example, people can freely date or have sexual relations with as many people as they like if they choose to. There are common law marriages. Even in some places like Alabama, if a man and woman stay together in the same home for even a short period of time, according to law, the authorities don’t have the right to put either out of the home in case of domestic dispute (or other) because they are considered common law husband and wife. Some people also just separate or remain married (legally) but no longer live a married life with their legal spouse and have relationships with other people. So, I guess for numbers sake we can look at the ranks for recorded divorce statistics here and around the world, but when you think about it, it’s not as cut and dry as numbers. People and relationships are so much more complex than just numbers. Numbers are okay though to get a general idea of some things, though.

    Either way, divorce can be a complicated matter, anywhere in the world you go for all involved.

  18. “There are Saudi couples who realize they cannot live together as a husband and wife. Rather than divorce and face external repercussions from family and society they quietly choose to live separate lives. The wife and children may remain in the home provided during the marriage but the man will live apart. Or the wife and children may shift to the area where the wife is from and the man remains in a separate city near his employment. Face and honor are saved. ”

    For those who questioned how a platonic marriage (zawaj wanasa) would come about, I believe what is written here in this post is a good explanation as to why that type of marriage may occur and how the couple make it work for their family and circumstances.

  19. There is a basic flaw in the upbringing of each generation in Saudi. The very fabric of the society is rotting constantly. If only they wake up while there still is time. I say this with complete confidence in the knowledge gained by mixing up with males of different income stratum. It is really remarkable the decay has not taken its toll!

  20. “It is really remarkable the decay has not taken its toll.”

    But it has. People are divided, resentful of each other, technologically behind, politically oppressed, socially, sexually and emotionally suffocated and worse, Saudis are among the most disliked by most people of the world.

    This is all due to the autocratic and theocratic institutions that mold their minds, personalities and perceptions and turn them against each other and the rest of the world.

    The overwhelming majority of Saudis are brainwashed into believing that their religion and culture are supreme and superior to all others; therefore, they are special and pure. Just go to a mosque on Fridays or a living room any day and listen to what’s being said. I went through this process so I know.

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