January 22, 2024 In Legal Support

Maintenance and Dower

Women in Bangladeshi culture are constantly trained to be dependent, whether it is on their families before marriage or their husbands or in-laws afterward. We are indeed aware of the fact that our nation has established a set of gender stereotypes that are based on the assumption that men should be the ones who earn the money and women should be the ones who take care of the family. It is frequently asserted that husbands are supposed to be the family’s providers; women, in contrast, do not need to work but should contribute to the household. They are most often forbidden from pursuing their education or working after marriage. Women become economically dependent on their spouses as a result of this treatment. Although the idea of stereotyped gender-based roles has been evolving over time, it is still pervasive in our culture. Many women are forced to choose to live as housewives in order to take care of their children and in-laws, even when they are educated and skilled enough to engage in income-generating activities. This type of mentality is very typical in our culture, not just in rural areas but also in urban areas, sometimes among the most educated people. However, after a divorce, these expectations are instantly forgotten when the ex-husband or his family stops providing the woman with maintenance.

Moreover, after a divorce, women are in severe need of financial assistance. Following the separation of marriage, women who are unable to earn a living or who are compelled to leave their employment because they have been housewives in their husbands’ households for a long period of time experience extreme distress and financial difficulties. Unfortunately, when a divorce has been finalized, the husbands leave the wives with nothing: neither a house to live in nor any living costs; they are also sometimes deprived of their own matrimonial properties, which were built by the contributions of both the husband and wife during their marriage. Frequently, women have no choice but to return to their parents’ houses or rely on their relatives. Currently, married women in Bangladesh are unable to claim a share of the marital property to which they have contributed throughout their marriage. Usually, as per societal norms, it is the women who must vacate the home they shared with their spouses after divorce, not the other way around. The contributions made by women are not taken into account by the patriarchal society. If not by means of money, many of them make varied contributions to the matrimonial property during the course of their marriages, but the current legal system has failed to acknowledge this fact. In reality, many women forsake their careers to tend to their children, spouses, and in-laws, despite possessing the proper education and abilities for employment. Our patriarchal culture forces women to stay at home as housewives, which is why they rely extensively on their husbands. Therefore, it is paradoxical that they just receive nothing from the marital property, which is actually made out at the expense of their contribution as well. The current system of law in Bangladesh does not recognize women’s ownership rights to conjugal property.

The Family Courts Ordinance of 1985 provides the Family Court with jurisdiction over the maintenance of married women, pre- and post-divorce. Section 5 of the Act contains the provisions regarding these matters. Furthermore, maintenance is also covered by the Muslim Family Law Ordinance of 1961, particularly by Section 9 of the legislation. Bangladeshi Muslim family law prohibits women from receiving maintenance for more than the Iddat period, which is 90 days following the divorce notice or the birth of a child, provided she was expecting a child during the divorce proceedings. In the event of divorce, a Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance from the husband up until the end of the Iddat period but no longer than that. Even though the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ruled in favour of the divorced woman in Muhammad Hefzur Rahman v. Shamsun Nahar Begum, following Ayat No. 241 of Surah Al-Baqarah, deciding that women have a right to maintenance beyond the Iddat period, it did not sustain in the Appellate Division. As per the decision of the High Court, a man is required to support the woman financially in a reasonable manner beyond the Iddat period for an undetermined amount of time or until she no longer qualifies as a divorcee by getting remarried, and that woman has the right over household essentials. However, it was set aside by the Appellate Division as they deemed it unfair toward the husband. Even so, the Appellate Division only rendered the maintenance part unjust; nothing regarding the women’s claim over household substances was mentioned. Although many Muslim nations have passed laws or established legal precedents concerning women’s maintenance following divorce beyond the Iddat period, Bangladesh has not yet done so, which is of the utmost necessity. Laws should not be unjust against anybody, and a man should not be imposed with such responsibility every time. The government and Bangladeshi Parliament should consider the circumstances or causes of divorces and establish laws to redress those women whose rights were infringed by their spouses throughout the marriage, as a result of which they resorted to divorce. In addition, regulations should be passed to protect women’s rights over marital assets based on their overall contributions, whether financial or not.

On the other hand, even though there are no Muslim laws regarding post-divorce maintenance, there is indeed the provision of the dower. Dower is a marital right of every Muslim woman; however, they are mostly deprived of this right in our society. Often, the amount that was fixed for the dower before the marriage is not paid at all. Men in this patriarchal society mostly look for reasons to not pay the dower and divest women of their conjugal rights. Even when the divorce has been finalized, knowing that at a time like this the dower amount would be useful and vital, the men attempt to avoid paying it. Sometimes, even when part of the amount is paid during the marriage before commencing divorce, the men deny their spouses’ right to obtain the rest of the amount of the dower after the divorce, especially when the divorce was initiated by the woman.

It does not matter who initiates a divorce; the amount fixed for the dower ought to be paid to the wife either during the lifetime of the marriage or, in the case of separation, after their divorce. The right to dower is guaranteed by Bangladesh’s relevant legislation. As per Section 3 of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act, 1974, for a marriage conducted in accordance with Muslim Shariah law to be considered a lawful marriage, it must be registered. Likewise, the Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Rules, 2009, which covered the required area of the details of the dower, such as the amount and means of payment, required the implementation of the standardized form of the Nikahnama, or contract of marriage. In addition, under Section 10 of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, it is asserted that the sum of the dower should be paid at the wife’s demand; however, if the form of payment is not clearly stated in the Nikahnama or the contract of marriage, the whole amount is to be paid. The Family Courts Ordinance of 1985 gives the wife the ability to file legal claims for dower recovery in the event that the payment is disregarded or refused. Since the very beginning of time, the notion of dower rights has been a part of Shariah law. It exists to protect married women and ensure their safety and needs after marriage, even if they are widowed or divorced. Consequently, this right should never be breached in any way.

Barrister Sabrina Zarin

Senior Partner, Equity LLP

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