CAIRO — A member of parliament's Religious Affairs Committee said he will propose amending the personal status law to grant women in Egypt the right to alimony as soon as they file for divorce. Parliamentarian Shukri al-Gundi announced Aug. 5 that he will introduce a draft amendment during the next session.
Divorce proceedings often last more than two years. Under the proposal, a court would direct a state-owned bank to issue a monthly allowance to a woman who has filed for divorce. The bank's payments would continue until the proceedings end.
The proposal is stirring controversy: Proponents see it as a strong, radical solution to the hardships the yearslong trial procedures inflict on women and children; opponents say the state budget cannot support the upfront payments. Opponents also say the plan would affect the financial status of banks, which would have to collect the money from husbands after a final judgment is made. This would be a particularly difficult procedure with men who do not work in the public sector and whose wages can't be garnished.
Gundi told Al-Monitor, “The lengthy trial procedures to grant women alimony constitute a form of torture for women and their families. The lawsuit demanding alimony takes more than two years in most cases. During this period, women do not have any resources to live on. Women who suffer the most are those who do not work or are poor and can't afford lawyers’ fees; those who can [afford the fees] are frustrated by the long procedures and the complications of investigating the husband’s income and the difficulties of notifying him of the alimony decision. This slowly drains women’s limited resources.”
He added, “The [proposed] amendment would allow women to obtain a decision from the judge examining the divorce case during the first litigation hearing."
With the court's approval, women would receive monthly alimony payments of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about $57) until the legal procedures end. "The bank can collect the alimony with interest from the husband as soon as the final judgment is pronounced," Gundi said.
Alimony for the spouse and child support are not luxuries in underdeveloped countries, Gundi said, adding that the proposal would not pressure the state budget. “The money paid would be reimbursed with an interest rate of 19.75% and a delay penalty, as per the banking regulations," he continued. "At the same time, the state would be shielding the spouse and her children from social vices like children dropping out of school and the deterioration of the health of the wife and her children from malnutrition. The draft law would also curb crime, as people who cannot meet their basic needs are easy prey for delinquencies and immoralities."
Ibrahim Abdul Nazeer, a member of the Budget Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The humanitarian content of such a proposal is good, but it goes against the state’s general policy focusing on reducing the deficit, estimated at 319 billion Egyptian pounds [$18 billion] for 2016. These expenses, with their interest, would burden the government with more debts, in case banks fail to collect alimony from the husbands for several reasons. In some cases, it may be hard to estimate the daily wages of husbands, especially public sector employees, who may submit a certificate detailing their basic salary without bonuses, incentives and overtime. Husbands also sometimes resort to a strange trick by asking their parents to file a lawsuit against them seeking financial support for the parents, to reduce the alimony allocated to the wife. Consequently, the judge can rule for alimony under $55. In this case, the state would be bound to cover the difference.”
He added, “It would be better for the state to establish a family fund financed by fees imposed on the husband … as well as donations, grants and money collected from the husband such as expenses and delay penalties. The fund’s money would be invested and the revenues would be distributed as alimony.”
Undersecretary of the Economic Committee Amr al-Gohary told Al-Monitor, “Hurling the banking system into legal disputes is a huge threat to the economy. Banks are responsible for investing the depositors’ funds well, and these funds can't be withdrawn as alimony without guarantees from the bank. Obliging banks to pay $55 as a minimum monthly alimony is a prior interference in judicial decisions. Judges might rule for less than this amount, depending on the husband’s limited resources.”
Gohary said that to expedite litigation procedures and assess a husband’s income, a condition should be added to the marriage contract forcing a husband who does not pay alimony to pay a monthly amount agreed upon between the two families, according to the income the husband disclosed before the marriage. He explained, “This amount would increase yearly by 10%, as of the marriage date. As per the new condition in the old contract, the wife would get an urgent judicial decision allowing her to collect the alimony.”
At the family court, Al-Monitor met with Wafaa Salah, a wife who went to court to claim alimony. She sees Gundi’s proposed amendment as a safety net that would rescue many children whose fathers are not paying alimony.
Salah said her husband has not been supporting their children for three years. After problems grew between them, he took an unpaid leave from his government job and went to Saudi Arabia, where he found work. After a year of friendly but failed attempts to get him to pay child support, Salah said, she had to file for alimony. The case has been stalled in court for two years.
Salah noted that alimony cases go through the Court of First Instance and then the Court of Appeal before a writ of execution is issued, and the husband must be notified of the judgment three times.
Women suffer more when their husbands work abroad. In such cases, the law says a wife asking for alimony has to personally submit the judgment along with the writ of execution to the technical bureau of the public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation at the High Court of Justice. This requires the wife to know the home address and job of the husband, which may be an impossible condition to meet. The consular administration then sends the judgment to the Egyptian Embassy in the country where the husband works. Only then can the judgment be implemented, in cooperation with the judicial authorities of the foreign country and in compliance with reciprocity agreements.