Portrait of a shocked young girl looking at mobile phone screen.

Saudi Arabia Allows Divorce by Text

While we in the U.S. debate whether it’s appropriate to break up with someone by text, consider what happened recently overseas. Saudi Arabia made headlines with a new law providing that when a husband divorces a wife, the court will notify the woman by text with a case number and and name of court for her to pick up the “decree.”

Hold your outrage – this is actually an improvement over the prior law! That’s right – in a system notorious for denying even the most basic human rights to women, preventing husbands from divorcing their wives in secret is a significant reform, up there with the right to drive.

Per The Guardian, “‘Women… will be notified of any changes to their marital status via text message,’ the justice ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Al-Ekhbariya news channel and other local media.”

Before this reform, men were able to divorce their wives without even telling them, sometimes continuing to live in the same house as each other completely unaware of the divorce.

Is an After-the-Divorce Text Fair?

In a word, no – it’s not even close to our standards of fairness in Colorado, from start to finish. Let’s explain the ways:

Notice of Proceeding

Colorado requires that the summons for dissolution of marriage be personally served on the respondent. C.R.C.P. Rule 4. Although service by publication is permitted when a respondent cannot be located (Rule 4(g)), this severely limits the power of the court, which can grant a divorce and enter parenting orders, but not divide property or order the respondent spouse to pay support to the petitioner.

Personal Jurisdiction

Even with notice, a Colorado court cannot enter financial orders over the other spouse without personal jurisdiction over the person.

Discovery

To prevent trial by ambush, Colo. R. Civ. P. 16.2 provides for mandatory financial disclosures, the exchange of witness lists and exhibits. Other rules set forth the ability to dig deeper with discovery requests.

In short, our system levels the playing field by providing each spouse with the ability to obtain information and documents relevant to the proceedings.

Opportunity to Participate

This one is pretty important – all the notice in the world is pointless if a spouse does not have the right to participate in the proceedings. Notice that in Saudi Arabia, women are told of the divorce after-the-fact.

So what happens in the Saudi equivalent of divorce court? The husband goes in, states his case, and the court issues an order without ever hearing what the wife had to day. The only time that happens in Colorado is when a spouse is personally served, but then defaults by not showing up to the hearing.

And our courts are gender-neutral. Women do not automatically “win” custody battles or receive alimony. Men do not end up with the lion’s share of the property because they “earned” it. Marital property is divided equitably, and parenting orders are entered based upon the best interests of the children.

Military Service Prevents Participation

A federal law known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects our men and women in uniform from default judgments against them if their military status materially affected the ability to appear.

Post-Trial Rights

Due process does not end with the dissolution hearing. Afterwards, the spouses may request reconsideration from the judge, appeal the outcome, or request modification if circumstances change.

Say “I Divorce You” Three Times?

One of the classical Islamic ways to end a marriage is called the talaq, which literally means “repudiation.” Under this tradition, a husband can divorce his wife simply by “repudiating” her  No court approval required, just a waiting period, and the potential for some minimal support to the wife.

In dire cases, the “triple talaq” was used, wherein the talaq is repeated three times and the divorce is effective then, without a waiting period. The practice was condemned by Muhammad centuries ago, and contrary to myth, is not a common way of dissolving a marriage in the Muslim world. In fact, starting with Egypt in 1929, to date 19 Muslim nations have banned the practice.

But that does not mean the practice has been eradicated. It is prevalent enough among the Muslim community in India, for example, that the country’s Supreme Court just declared the triple talaq unconstitutional in 2017. That apparently was not sufficient to stop the practice – just last month India’s parliament caused protests among some Muslims by criminalizing “instant divorces”, at least if the wife’s family filed a protest.

It’s good to live in America. People complain about lawyers, but a fair legal system is indispensable in a free society, even in domestic relations.

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