Sharia Law and International Parental Child Abduction

One of our clients told us everyone is to scared to talk about laws in the Middle East……well not us. So here is CARI’s introduction into Sharia law…..awareness only works if people share and spread the word. It might just prevent a child being abducted in the future.

Custody disputes in most Middle Eastern countries like, but not limited to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Algeria and Libya, child custody is based on Islamic law. The primary concern of these countries courts in deciding child custody cases is that the child be raised in accordance with the Islamic faith. Most custody disputes in these the Middle East are handled by the Islamic “Sharia” courts.

These courts ‘generally’ do not award custody of children to non-Islamic women. If the mother is an Arab Muslim, judges will usually not grant her custody of children unless she is residing in that country or the father is not a Muslim.
Since some of these countries women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, custody disputes between, say for example a Saudi mother and Australian father would be heard by the Sharia court, which would usually apply Islamic rules of custody and decide the case on its merits.
If the mother wins custody, the father is usually granted visitation rights. According to Saudi law, a child whose mother is Saudi and father is non-Saudi is not granted Saudi citizenship. However, even if an Australian father wins custody of his children, he may still need permission from the Saudi mother to remove the children from Saudi Arabia.

These countries like most others courts hesitate to rule in child custody cases if both parents are non-Muslim. The court will refer the case to the family court in the country from which the parents came. In some cases CARI knows of, if pressured to address such a situation, the court will rule that both parents should be deported from say, Saudi Arabia to avoid complications and embarrassment.

Unfortunately, there are even non-Muslim western abductors; fleeing to these countries in the hope Sharia law will protect them from returning their abducted children. As an example the UAE, in particular Dubai where we know of numerous cases the foreign father (in most cases) will aim to get to the UAE for protection. We have clients who have even had to prove they are good Muslims by standing in an Islamic court to be tested on their Muslim knowledge, before the courts acknowledge if she is a good Muslim.

Normally, under Sharia law, a mother can maintain custody of her male children until the age of nine, and female children until age seven. In practice the courts favor keeping children within a strict Islamic environment. Sharia court judges have broad discretion in custody cases and often make exceptions to these general guidelines.

Even when a mother who is residing in these Middle Eastern countries is granted physical custody of children, the father maintains legal custody and has the right to determine where the children live and travel. In many cases, the father has been able to assume legal custody of children against the wishes of the mother when she is unable or unwilling to meet certain conditions set by law for her to maintain her custodial rights. For example, if the mother moves to another country, the father is entitled to have custody. A court can sever a mother’s custody if it determines that the mother is incapable of safeguarding the child or of bringing the child up in accordance with the appropriate religious standards. The mother can lose custody by re-marrying a non-Muslim, or by residing in a home with non-relatives. Sharia law allows custody of children to be awarded to the closest male relative of a father in the case of death or imprisonment of the father, even if the father has made clear his wish that the children’s mother have full custody.

In actual practice, the conditions placed on the mother’s primary right to custody often enable the father to maintain a great deal of influence on the rearing of the children even though he may not have legal custody. For example, the mother must seek his approval to travel with the children.
Custody orders and judgements of foreign courts are not enforceable in all these countries if they potentially contradict or violate local laws and practices. For example, an order from a U.S. court granting custody to an American mother will not be honored in Jordan if the mother intends to take the child to the United States and live outside of Jordan. Nor will Jordanian courts enforce a U.S. court decree ordering a parent in Jordan to pay for child support since Jordanian law states that the parent with custody is responsible for providing financial support for the child.


Child abduction is a serious offense in the Middle Eastern countries. Any person who abducts a child in order to deprive the legal guardian of custody faces a prison sentence between (average) three months to three years and a fine. This applies equally to a parent committing such an offense in order to unlawfully obtain custody of a child. A mother may also face serious legal difficulties if she attempts to take her children out of these countries without the permission of the father. Border officials may ask to see such permission in writing before allowing children to exit.

All of these counties mentioned and more in the middle east have not acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and lawyers familiar with the these country’s child custody laws do not believe they are like to do so. The lawyers we work with, often point out to CARI in discussions that the convention could require their courts to honor custody decrees that violate their countries laws.

We have experienced in some countries though, like Egypt that more and more foreign mothers are being awarded custody through the Egyptian courts. But getting custody is just the begining of the roller coaster ride. Unfortunately, in every single one of our jobs we have, and are carrying out for foreign mothers in these countries, if they get granted custody of the children the father will run and avoid the authorities. For a father to abducted their child into Eygpt as an example, is not illegal or a crime in the eyes of Shaira law. This is when CARI can help. We strongly advise against trying to take your child(ren) illegally out of these countries as not only is it illegal, their punishments are sever. Any foreigner must respect the laws within each country they visit regardless if you disagree with their laws and culture. You must fight it head on……never give up. We have clients whos children have been abducted into the Middle East who have been fighting up to 4 years before they come to CARI for help.

If you have custody through the courts in these countries and still cannot get your child(ren) home, contact CARI for a free no obligation (none pushy) consultation. We work very closely with authorities and law firms in these countries. We cannot stress enough, that you need to get an EXPERIENCE lawyer in the field of International Parental Child Abduction. You will waste a lot of time and a lot of money if you hire an inexperienced lawyer. Also be aware that things do not operate or run in the same manner as your country…….things are often slow and getting answers will sometimes be impossible if you do not have the correct contacts. Corruption is also high in many of these countries so abductors have and will try their luck at paying officials to get what they want.

We will not bullshit you, if your child is illegally abducted to any Middle Eastern country it is going to be the toughest fight you have ever experienced in trying to get your children back, due to unfamiliar laws, being Sharia law. If you come across anyone including lawyers in those countries that tell you, “Yes, no problem I can get your child home, no problem”. Wake up, because your about to get taken for a ride…..financially.

The bottom line is there is really no awareness on this topic, so more and more foreign parents are getting stuck in horrible situations they had no idea even existed. A great deal more needs to be done to bring awareness especially to Western women who travel to foreign countries where Sharia law is in force, because you will get zero help from your embassy or governments and will be left to fend for yourself to try and see your children again.

CARI – Child Abduction Recovery International

This information is based from our own experiences in helping clients recover their children who have been illegally abducted to countries, which are governed by Sharia Law.

Disclaimer: the information in this post relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign council/lawyers.

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