Aisha Bint Abdullah

Aisha Bint Abdullah

Journalist

Saudi Ministry of Justice annuls House of Obedience

In a new step towards accomplishing further rights for women, the Saudi Justice Ministry abolished the so-called "House of Obedience" ruling and suspended all provisions that oblige the wife to return to her husband's house without her consent.

Many Personal Status Laws in Arab countries consist of what is known as “House of Obedience”, a legal condition according to which the husband is entitled to force his wife to return home from her pre-marital family after leaving for reasons of marital dispute. Should she refuse he can resort to court action to get a ruling to force his wife to return.

Before issuing its ruling the court usually investigates certain conditions to prove the husband’s situation before ruling in his favor. These conditions have been under permanent debate. It is argued that these investigations are insufficient, being related more to material matters rather than social ones. The investigations appear to focus on the husband’s ability to provide an adequate and independent means for the wife, in financial terms, at the husband’s place of residence.

Evasion of the law

Those who are in favor of abolishing House of Obedience laws claim that husbands who abuse their wives resort to such laws to force the wife to return thus escaping their legal obligations.

After the court orders the wife to obey her husband and return, the husband has the right to file a legal case called recalcitrance, according to which the husband can annul his wife’s right to alimony in case she refuses to return.

Some husbands exploit this by pressuring their wives with ill-treatment to leave the house, then rush to court to demand the return of the wife to the house of obedience. Then the woman has no choice other than return or give up her alimony.

Okaz newspaper quoted legal sources, stating "The new decision aims at preserving women’s dignity, and putting an end to many husband’s exploitation of their wives by forcing them to live a life they do not want. In the case of a wife refusing to return the husband no longer has the choice of divorcing or Khul.   

Enforced Implementation

The decree is re-enforcing an already existing article which states "Obedience ruling should not be implemented by forcing the wife to return to her husband’s house.”

In previous times the husband was able to submit a petition demanding his wife be taken to the "house of obedience" for leaving without his consent. In those cases the ruling was carried out by force with the help of policemen.

According to official 2011 statistics, Saudi courts applied 2,653 court orders requiring wives to return to the "House of Obedience" by force.

In 2012 the Ministry of Justice began a process of suspending forced implementation of rulings, but did not cease issuance, a process intended to limit implementation of the ruling against the wife’s disobedience.  

Accordingly the number of obedience rulings decreased by half between the years 2013-2015. The number of cases filed decreased to 1,260 compared to 2,653. However the number of legal cases filed asking for Khul increased to 71%.

A recent decree by the Ministry of Justice has comprehensively stopped issuance of such rulings, thus signaling the end to the distressing era of the "House of Obedience" in Saudi Arabia.

Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of the Judiciary are the highest judicial authority in Saudi Arabia.

They have now adopted several decisions in favor of women, especially the custodian mother, who no longer needs to go to court to ask for her child’s alimony or custody.
In addition, legal procedures have facilitated swifter implementation of rulings in favor of women’s legal status, particularly in questions of both the mother’s and child’s welfare.

The Saudi judiciary is visibly reaching out, in public, toward a deep transformation of the legal system cementing woman’s rights in Saudi society.

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