The cost of divorce

Amira Hisham, Sunday 2 Apr 2023

From presidential initiatives to a new personal status law, Egypt is working to protect family members from the distressing repercussions of divorce

To decrease the number of divorces Mawada initiative was launched
To decrease the number of divorces Mawada initiative was launched


There are on average 667 divorces in Egypt every day. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, 243,583 couples were divorced in the country in 2021, recording a 14 per cent increase on the 2020 figure.

Protecting family members against instability is one of the state’s goals, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said recently at an event marking Women’s Day.

Towards this end and to decrease the number of divorces and provide social protection for divorced women and their children, the presidential initiative Mawada (Cordiality) was launched in 2019 to help couples about to get married with the information and skills required to found a strong family. The Ministry of Social Solidarity is supervising the campaign.

Moreover, a few months ago the president instructed the drafting of a new personal status law that avoids the pitfalls of the current law. The wording of the draft should be detailed and simplified to enable Egyptians from all walks of life to understand it, he added. At the celebration last week, Al-Sisi said a wide-scale social dialogue should be initiated to help draft a new, balanced law.

In the meantime, the state is helping divorcees out. The Family Insurance Fund of Nasser Social Bank was established in 2004, focusing on cases in which divorced men abstain from paying alimony.

From 2004 until the end of 2021 the bank disbursed LE5 billion, or LE82 million a month to 500,000 beneficiaries from 302,000 court rulings and total indebtedness of LE2.7 billion.

The Nasser Social Bank is meant to realise social justice through its Family Insurance Fund, which works to speed up the implementation of court rulings for monthly alimony in favour of divorced women, children, and parents at a maximum of LE500 per month and obtaining their entitlements speedily without the need to wait to collect the alimony from the ex-husband.

Protecting the Egyptian family takes more than drafting laws, counsellor Walid Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the initiative Together to Save the Egyptian State, and cassation lawyer, told Al-Ahram Weekly. Social awareness is equally important, Abdel-Maqsoud said, adding that families must take several steps before taking their case to court.

Abdel-Maqsoud suggested “introducing a family education curriculum in schools to be prepared by notable Al-Azhar, psychology, and sociology scholars. Couples wanting to marry should attend courses especially designed to educate them on marriage and the means of separation without causing harm to their children.”

He said he wished to see a set of measures enforced by the new personal status law: “Speedy litigation procedures are necessary; two months maximum for alimony cases and 15 days for appeal in family courts instead of 40 days. An alimony ruling should be associated with a jail sentence if the man abstains from paying. There should also be a cooperation protocol between the ministries of justice and manpower on one hand and where the man works, on the other hand, to deduct the alimony automatically from his salary.”

Counsellor Mohamed Farghali, a former head of the Family Court, said cases take between six and 12 months in court. “However, the problem is not the ruling but seeing it implemented.”

Farghali recounts the case of a woman who received a ruling in her favour 12 years ago “but hasn’t been able to receive her spousal support”. Farghali called for “tying alimony rulings with government entities so that the man cannot renew or obtain documents until he pays his dues. This scheme is applied in criminal rulings.”

Abdel-Maqsoud lauded the change in giving custody to the father in the new law being drafted. “At present, the father comes in 16th place when it comes to receiving custody of his children, which is not fair. The new bill places the father fifth.”

For the father to see his children once a week he should be “willingly spending money on them, enjoys good behaviour, has not been sentenced in terrorism or honour-incriminating cases, and does not take the children abroad during custody,” Abdel-Maqsoud proposed.

Farghali pointed to the psychological damage children may suffer if, for example, couples hurl insults in front of their children. He also suggested preventing children from attending court sessions to spare them psychological damage.

At last week’s celebration Grand Mufti Shawki Allam said some 300,000 religious edicts on divorce had been issued in the past five years which, he added, brought back the discussion about the need to document divorces that are announced verbally, a matter on which Al-Azhar has shown reservations.

Al-Sisi noted at the event that he had sought the need to document oral divorce five years ago, stressing that it should be applied at present and that he would not take any steps that were not compliant with Islamic Sharia.

The aim of cancelling oral divorce, Al-Sisi added, is to protect the Egyptian family and society.

Divorce in Egypt, and in Islam, is until today valid if the husband — willingly — tells his wife “you are divorced,” without the need to document the divorce on paper before a marriage registrar.

It takes a woman around six to eight months to prove the divorce in court, said Farghali, suggesting that an oral divorce be followed by documenting it on paper within a week before it becomes invalid.

Oral divorce renders the woman divorced according to Sharia but married according to law, said Abdel-Maqsoud, adding that documenting divorce will provide social protection for women.

In December 2022, Al-Sisi instructed the establishment of the Family Support Fund and an insurance policy to be financially backed by the state in the face of challenges related to personal status matters. The state will pay to the fund the equivalent sum that each couple who are about to be married — no matter their religious affiliation — would be obliged to pay.

The president noted that the fund will also accept donations.

If utilised correctly, the family fund can be a pillar of social protection and provide a decent life for the community, Farghali said, expressing hope that the money couples will have to pay will “not be much”. When news of the proposed Family Support Fund first came out, many couples, fearing they would have to pay large sums for the fund, rushed to complete their marriage certificates.

Abdel-Maqsoud expects the fee will come in the form of a postal stamp worth around LE1,000, mandatory to completing official marriage papers. “I believe this will be the best social protection measure of the past 50 years.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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