Friday, January 15, 2010

The Marriage Permission Process for a Saudi/non-Saudi Couple: New in 2010!

Regular readers will remember that Saudi citizenship is not acquired by jus soli, the law of the ground, meaning that citizenship is not acquired by virtue of being born in Saudi, as is described in the story of baby Ameena, here.

Regular commentator Add has sent along the good news that the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) has lowered the required age for the woman in the case of the marriage of a Saudi citizen to a foreigner who was born in Saudi but is not a Saudi citizen.

Where the man is Saudi and is marrying a woman who is a non-Saudi citizen but was born in Saudi the age requirement for the non-Saudi woman is lowered, to 18.

Where the woman is Saudi and is marrying a man who is a non-Saudi citizen but born in Saudi the age requirement for the Saudi woman is now 21 (down from 25).

This is good news and a good reminder of the lessons learned by others in their marriage permission process that the information provided by the MOI, and the requirements stated on its website and by its offices, are a necessary first step and ongoing part of the process, whether one is able to benefit from personal attention via wasta (influence) or reshwa (bribery) or not. In fact, the penalties to the official accepting a bribe are very high.

These lowered age requirements are a sign of the marriage permission process in these specific situations becoming easier for the couple. It reinforces the information shared by others that Saudi is more favourable to marriages of a Saudi to a non-Saudi when the non-Saudi partner has shown ties to Saudi, by virtue of living there, being educated there, and/or working there, all of which are greater assurance that the non-Saudi partner will be able to adapt to life in Saudi, and that this will increase the chances of a happy marriage and decrease the risk of divorce."

When a Saudi/non-Saudi couple divorces, the Saudi government has agreed to facilitate the protection and repatriation of the non-Saudi partner, most often the woman, in the case of US (? and EU) citizens which seems to have created a greater hesitancy to approve marriages where there is little evidence that the non-Saudi partner will adapt well to life in Saudi Arabia. In keeping with that concern, it seems that it is easier to get the permission when the non-Saudi partner is from a nearby GCC or MENA country, ie speaks Arabic, has lived in an Arab culture, and perhaps is Muslim (although Muslim men may marry women who are Daughters of the Book, ie of the Quran, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian).

Rates of divorce for Saudi/non-Saudi unions, while high (~ 50% though reliable statistics are hard to obtain), are not far off those of Saudi/Saudi unions, or American divorce rates.

Other marriage permission procedures, for a legally recognized marriage to a Saudi, which is required to be able to live or travel as man and wife in the Kingdom, are described at the same site.

A Saudi man marrying a non-Saudi woman who is not born in Saudi and is not a Saudi resident.

A Saudi woman marrying a non-Saudi man who is not born in Saudi and is not a Saudi resident (as is the story of Sid Ahmed here).

A Saudi marrying a non-Saudi who was not born in Saudi but resides legally in Saudi as a card-holder. In this case the Saudi must be at least 25, and the non-Saudi would-be wife must be at least 18.

In all 5 situations of a Saudi/non-Saudi permission process, 3 requirements are common and mentioned in a special note:

If the couple are relatives, evidence must be provided from the court.
The husband must attend personally (no proxy is allowed).
The wife's guardian must attend personally to ensure her consent.

In all 5 situations legal proof of the woman’s consent is required ie her consent to the marriage although her mahrem acts in court on her behalf:

Consent certificate from the wife showing her full name, dates, numbers and her fingerprints.

The situation of a Saudi living abroad but legally resident in Saudi Arabia (the case of students living abroad for example, and describe in the posts of Ellen and M, here and here) wishing to marry a non-Saudi is also described at the same site.

In this case the would-be husband must be aged 35-70 and there is no age requirement for the would-be wife. Here it is specially noted that:

Proof of family relationship certified by the General Court if a first-class kinship.
Applicant must attend personally and no proxy is accepted.

In all cases where the Saudi man is marrying a 2nd wife who is a non-Saudi citizen, he must prove that the first wife, whether Saudi or foreign, is unable to bear children, or has a malignant disease:

If the would be husband has a wife a Saudi or foreign wife, he should present a medical report from a government hospital showing the disease if she is infertile or suffers from malignant diseases or the doctor clearly states in the report the risk of pregnancy.

In summary, the same MOI site provides the information for the steps and documents required for all 6 types of Saudi/non-Saudi marriage permissions:

Saudi Marriage to a resident born in the kingdom

Saudi Woman marriage to non-Saudi born in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Marriage to a non-Saudi Resident

Saudi Women marriage to non-Saudis

Saudi Marriage to Card Holder female

Saudi Marriage form abroad

While these sites are for the Emirate of Makkah Province the same is applicable in all provinces of Saudi Arabia.

Given the vagaries of translation, those who are fluent in Arabic should consult the equivalent Arabic language sites of the MOI.

It is interesting to note the age requirements that are set, whereas there are no legal age limits for Saudi/Saudi marriages, although the possibility of instituting these to protect minors is being discussed by the Saudi Ministry of Justice according to the Saudi Gazette, and in the blogosphere at Crossroads Arabia here.

Also being discussed, by the Muwadda Women’s Divorce Charity, though much more controversial, is a requirement for mental health certification along with the physical medical health certification as reported by the Saudi Gazette, here. This is also being discussed in the blogosphere at Crossroads Arabia here.

Another new development, or recycling of an old development, is the reconsideration of marriage laws to foreigners by the Shoura Council's Security Affairs Committee as reported in the Saudi Gazette.

The marriage permission process can be long, mystifying, stressful, and can require one to have a variety of documents about the lives of both parties to the marriage, but there are successes at the end of the “paper chase” as regular commentator Aziz (a Saudi citizenship marrying a woman who is a non-Saudi citizen born in Saudi) has shared with us on his journey here, and here; or as Sid Ahmed (non-Saudi citizen not born in Saudi marrying a Saudi woman) has shared here.

I would like to thank Add for contacting me with this update to the MOI requirements of the marriage permission process, and wish him all the best in his current application, as a man born in Saudi but not a Saudi citizen, wishing to marry a Saudi woman.

If you are going through this process, or have gone through it please share your experience, insights and information in the comments, and, if you wish, in a post (by contacting me at chiaraazlinquestion AT for help in doing so; confidentiality and final approval of the post are assured).

Questions for all:
What is your impression of the marriage permission process for Saudi/non-Saudi marriages?
What is your impression of the age requirements?
What is your impression of the proofs of medical health, consanguinity (up to 1st cousins), and consent requirements?
What is your impression of the requirement that there be proof of inability to have children or malignant cancer of the 1st wife if a Saudi man wishes to take a 2nd wife who is a non-Saudi (polygyny)?
Should this also apply to Saudi/Saudi 2nd polygynous marriages?

For the future:
Should age restrictions be placed on Saudi/ Saudi marriages?
Whom would they protect and how important is that?
Is requiring proof of mental health a good idea?
Whom would it protect or exclude, eg the mentally developmentally challenged, the severely psychiatrically ill, the addicted, others, all (since there are always or often some findings on any given standardized test eg. personality traits, if not disorders, less than 100% happiness, etc)?
How easy is it to do such testing reliably, and what abuses could such information be subject to?

Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Anonymous said...

This is indeed a welcome news for many couples, and also i feel there must be provisions for couples to regularize their marriage if they have not obtained permission earlier.

There are many marriages which have taken place with foreign spouses both inside and outside the kingdom. And they have not been recognized by the Government here and these couples face severe hardships and their children are the most affected, so i hope something is done about them.

With regards to the psychiatric and other medical tests done, its also good. There have been cases of forced marriages of girls to mentally ill in Middle East and Indian Subcontinent, this would certainly put a stop on that.

Also as per the Shariah it is expected that a man looks after his wife and family and if he is not able to do so due to illness or other reasons then such men are prohibited to marry. I see logic and good reasoning in that.

Also given the high divorce rates with foreign spouses, it is high time that more vetting is done to avoid such cases.

Chiara said...

Abu Abdullah--thanks for your comment. You make a number of good points.
International, bi-cultural marriages often have geographical and administrative challenges that mean a couple have a religious and a separate legal marriage, as well as more than one wedding celebration. Certain countries are more willing to accept a legal marriage from another country than others. For instance, Canada will accept a legal marriage certificate from any country: if it is legal in the country of origin it is legal in Canada. That is obviously not the case for Saudi where a marriage must be approved by the Saudi government, and for Saudi citizens, permission given prior to the marriage legally taking place. Some couples have an Islamic marriage only ie a religious one, without the legal marriage, whether it is to preserve a Saudi's student status, or military commitment, or because permission to marry legally has not been granted. Muslim majority countries that follow Sharia family law require an Islamic marriage as well as a legal one, or the couple are not considered married and their children are illegitimate. This can have serious consequences if they visit or live in such a country. This comes up for Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men, where the man doesn't convert and there is no Islamic marriage.

Where the issue in mental health testing is ruling out the clearly mentally incompetent, I have no problem. Although some would argue that all have the right to marry, I would argue that the partner has the right to know fully what they are getting into and to choose not to take that on. It is all the less clear cases that are worrisome. However, such testing could be structured to rule out marriage to a severely mentally disabled person.

I'm not sure this would impact significantly on divorce rates, as most divorcing couples as insane as they appear and feel during that time are actually high functioning before and after that very difficult stressor.

ellen557 said...

I just wish they would change the age requirement! If it's supposed to be about only "serious older" men applying then wth are they saying about men who are younger than that? Are they able to look at every marriage and tell if it's serious or if it will last? I would understand if the male's age limit would be over 20 or whatever but 35???? My husband is 26 and I'd say he is far more mature than all the 35 year olds I've met. I don't know why it's so hard to just address the applications on a case by case basis.

So I guess my answer is no to the age restrictions lol.

I think there is *some* good things about requiring proof of mental health because many foreign wives in KSA feel lonely and can get depressed. Couple that with other issues and it could be horrible for them.

I'm really happy to hear about requiring proof re taking a second wife and yes, I think that it should apply to Saudi/Saudi marriages too. BUT there are some couples who take on second wives for reasons other than that so there should be a whole list of possibilities for couples to fit.

Chiara said...

Ellen--Thanks for your comment. It is rather ironic that one of the new developments in Saudi/Saudi marriage permissions is the idea of instituting minimum age requirements where there currently are none. That is despite other Muslim majority countries following Sharia family law having age requirements for both men and women, often at 18 or sometimes 21 for the men, and sometimes 15 for the women. Still a far cry off none, or 35 for the men.

It only struck be now but requiring that a Saudi marrying a foreigner be 35 just about guarantees that this will be a second marriage, either polygynous or after divorce or widowhood. Either of those options may be a deterrent to some foreign women.

Given that brain imaging and neuroscience have shown that the brain is mature at 25 (and still maturing before) 35 seems like a socially arbitrary figure--more a deterrent than a precaution and discouraging to the men involved thinking they must wait this long. Now I am wondering how many Saudis who stay abroad rather than return to Saudi do so for this reason ie in order to live as a married couple with their foreign wife? How many are in nearby GCC countries for this same reason?

The infertility/malignancy issue would seem to slow down 2nd polygynous marriages, and in the sense of preventing the grief that some (?many) of these marriages cause would seem to be a good idea. On the other hand, what would the alternatives be? Maybe some first wives would prefer not to be divorced in favour of the new foreign wife. Hard to know. The last time I did research in the psychiatry literature on marriage in Saudi there was little addressing these finer questions--though a lot showing that polygynous marriages were hazardous to mental health. I doubt in the last 6 months much has changed but I will take another look.

If I understand you correctly you are concerned that the foreign women show the mental fitness to marry a Saudi? live in Saudi? I guess I would be more reticent on that one, although I take your point that this adds strain on the couple. Also one can be entirely fit mentally and still have a grief reaction for the loss of one's previous lifestyle, or a depression as part of a reaction to a major life change. Those responses are treatable and so to my mind would be unfortunate but not preclude marriage. A history of difficulty with change or of mental illness might figure in to a couple's decision of where to live.

I do hope you and M have success in your quest for the marriage permission, and hope that in a worst case scenario you remain in nearby Bahrain if that is what you prefer, or in Australia.

Thanks again for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a question
My boyfriend is Saudi and he is studying abroad, once he finish his degree he will go back to saudi... Can we apply for a marriage permission once he is there and is not a student anymore? He still has to be 35? Or doesn't matter? Becaus I think that once he gets there he is not a student anymore so I don't see the necessity of asking him being 35 years
Thank you


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