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Weekend ReadsA US woman's divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system

19:07  04 september  2019
19:07  04 september  2019 Source:   msn.com

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A US woman ' s divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system . A US nurse involved in a tortuous legal battle in Saudi Arabia , in which she claims authorities have consistently discriminated against her because she is a foreign woman

Under Saudi Arabia ' s guardianship laws, every women must have a male guardian who decides all of their critical decisions, from obtaining a passport to travel. Divorce proceedings are extremely difficult for women in Saudi Arabia , with men heavily favored and women needing their ex-husband' s

A US woman's divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system© Supplied
  • A US nurse's divorce battle against her Saudi husband shows the nightmare foreign women face in Saudi Arabia's sharia-based court system.
  • Teresa Malof, 51, divorced in 2015, but has struggled in Saudi Arabia's labyrinthine legal system. In the meantime, she is paying for her marital home in which her husband lives for free.
  • Speaking to Insider, Malof claims that the judge in Saudi Arabia has been consistently discriminating against her, and recently annulled her divorce.
  • The US Embassy has sent a diplomatic inquiry to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malof's name, seeking clarification over the allegations. It is very rare for officials to involve themselves in such cases.
  • Arabic court documents reviewed by Insider corroborate parts of Malof's story.
  • The case follows that of Bethany Vierra, a US citizen who lost custody of her 4-year-old to her ex-husband's family after he used photos of her in a bikini to claim she was unfit to be a parent.

A US nurse involved in a tortuous legal battle in Saudi Arabia, in which she claims authorities have consistently discriminated against her because she is a foreign woman, shows how the legal system can be a minefield for foreign women.

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Teresa Malof, 51, says she has been mistreated in her attempts to divorce her ex-husband Mazen al-Mubarak, the father to her three children. As a result, she says, she is stuck paying for their martial home while he lives in it.

al-Mubarak, the son of Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to Qatar, has used her unfamiliarity with the Saudi legal system and inability to speak Arabic to turn the tables against her, she told Insider.

Malof, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, married al-Mubarak in 2000 and filed for divorce in 2015. The divorce was approved, but the settlement is now bogged down in the courts.

The most obvious injustice, in Malof's view, is that al-Mubarak continues to live alone in a house in Riyadh for which she pays the mortgage of $2,831 a month.

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Insider has reviewed official Saudi court documents, which substantiate parts of Malof's account. They confirm that she launched legal proceedings to evict her ex-husband, made payments for the house while he lived there, and that she submitted formal complaints about the judge's conduct.

Malof claimed that, recently, the judge in her case abruptly annulled her divorce, making her technically married again. Malof contends that the judge did not have the power to do this.

"I just want it to be finished," Malof told Insider. "Foreign women are discriminated against here in the courts."

The US Embassy in Riyadh confirmed to Insider that it had began a formal process of seeking clarification over Malof's case with the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This kind of intervention is very rare.

A US woman's divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system© US State Department

US Embassy press attaché Peter Brown said: "We are aware of the case and providing appropriate consular services. Due to pending legal proceedings, we have nothing further to share."

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Neither the Saudi embassy in Washington, nor its Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, has responded to multiple requests for comment from Insider.

Malof told Insider that her house, in the al-Khozama district of Riyadh, was part of the agreement when the two split. She said al-Mubarak agreed to pay for $183,000 for it, but has yet to produce the money.

Insider has contacted al-Mubarak for comment, but is yet to receive a response.

Malof has been prevented from selling the house by the judge's decision to freeze the deed at the request of al-Mubarak. In the meantime, she continues to pay for the house while he lives there.

Malof has compiled a wide-ranging list of grievances against the court.

A US woman's divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system© Supplied

She claims that the judge has held court hearings without her knowledge, has omitted evidence from court minutes, has refused to give her an interpreter, credited her with making statements that she never uttered, and has met with al-Mubarak separately behind closed doors.

Malof says she was not informed of hearings on April 11, June 25, and September 5 last year. The last of these, she says, was the one where the judge froze the deed on her house, blocking her from selling it.

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Malof told Insider that the judge "has put several times in the minutes that there is an 'agreement' between me and al-Mubarak and the house is shared, which is not true." Minutes are the formal legal record of how a case is progressing.

The case follows that of Bethany Vierra, a US citizen who became trapped in Saudi Arabia by the Kingdom's guardianship laws in March, and later lost custody of her child when her ex-husband used images of her in a bikini to show she was unfit to parent.

A US woman's divorce battle in Saudi Arabia shows the nightmare foreign women can face in its labyrinthine legal system© صالح الحباطي

Malof's and Vierra's stories highlight the reality for non-Saudis under their legal system, which is based on the Qur'an, which contains God's revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, and the Sunnah, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In some cases, evidence submitted to court is invalid unless witnessed by two Muslim men.

Laws which are codified are written in a broad format that renders them open to vastly differing interpretations.

Malof was given an attorney by the Saudi government's Human Rights Commission at first, but has now hired her own, Hazim al-Madani.

Malof says she first approached the embassy for help in 2017, but that US officials only recently decided to act.

"I have lived in this country for more than twenty years" she told Insider. "Going public and talking badly about Saudi Arabia has never been my goal. However, what choice do I have?"

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