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Jul 16

American Woman Loses Custody Battle for Daughter in Saudi Arabia

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Edited: Aug 6

 

Bethany Vierra wanted a divorce from a husband she described as abusive. Then she wanted to secure custody of her 4-year-old daughter, Zeina. Then she wanted a court order to receive child support from her ex-husband, a businessman.

 

But as an American woman living in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Vierra has navigated a punishing legal maze ever since she first asked her Saudi ex-husband for a divorce in 2017, then opened custody proceedings last November.

 

Under Saudi law, which is based on Islamic law or Shariah, mothers generally retain day-to-day custody of sons until they turn 9, and daughters until they turn 7, while fathers remain their legal guardians. The kingdom announced last year that Saudi mothers could keep custody of children after a divorce without having to file a lawsuit, as they had previously had to do, unless the father was contesting custody.

 

Though she succeeded with the divorce, her custody battle appeared to dead end on Sunday, when a Saudi judge awarded custody of Zeina to her father’s mother.

But Saudi courts prioritize ensuring that children are raised in accordance with Islam. According to court documents, the judge accepted Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband’s arguments that she was unfit to raise Zeina because she was a Westerner, and furthermore because she ran her own business, a yoga studio, leaving her with little time to devote to her child.

 

“Since the mother is new to Islam and a foreigner in this country and embraces customs and traditions in the way she was raised,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “we must avoid exposing Zeina to these traditions.” (Vivian Yee - NY Times)

Zeina Bethany

 

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