Jordan: Family Law


Divorce and child custody disputes in Jordan are adjudicated exclusively in religious courts in that country. If the husband is Muslim, any disputes will be determined by a Sharia court which will apply principles of Islamic law. In the case of Christians, the court will be an Ecclesiastical Court composed of clergymen from the Greek Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church or other Christian denomination to which the parties belong.

The Jordanian law governing the guardianship and child custody of children is Sharia law as codified in Jordanian statutes, primarily the Personal Status Law. The laws provide that decisions concerning child custody are based primarily on the gender of the parents, but also upon the parents' compliance with religious obligations and customs and other factors.

The Jordanian law distinguishes fundamentally between “hadhana,” which refers to the physical care of the child, and “wilaya,” which refers to the legal authority over the child. Hadhana is usually translated into English as “custody” but that is too broad a term. Hadhana is more akin to “residential custody” and is often described as “babysitting.” Wilaya is often translated as “guardianship,” but that is also inaccurate. It is far more akin to “legal custody.”

The Personal Status Law provides that the person who has hadhana (residential custody) must be the mother until the child is 15 (Articles 170, 173) unless she is disqualified, in which event it will pass to the maternal grandmother, or otherwise to the paternal grandmother or otherwise to the father. When the child reaches the age of 15, the child may choose with whom to live (except that this applies when the child is only 10 if the custodian is not the mother).

The decisions concerning the child's education, country and area of residence, medical treatment, religious upbringing, obtaining a passport and international travel are made exclusively by the “wali” who is the person with the right of wilaya. Article 223 of the Personal Status Law provides that the wali is the child's father. The next in line to the father is any person the father may have appointed, then the grandfather, then any person the grandfather may have appointed, and then the court or the person the court sees fit to act. The automatic grant of wilaya to the child's father will not be removed even if the father acts in violation of the child's best interests.

The mother's right of hadhana must be extinguished if she does not effectively guarantee the child's religious and moral maintenance, or if she is an apostate or if she is remarries (with very limited exceptions). (Articles 171-172). Thus, if for example she lives with a non-Muslim or has or has had an intimate relationship outside marriage with a man, then that will disqualify her from such residential custody.

Hadhana may be taken away from a mother if it is shown that she is not entitled to that status because of her misconduct. Disgruntled fathers in Jordan (and in other countries in the region) frequently make spurious or exaggerated claims concerning the mother's alleged non-Islamic conduct --such as allegations about her friendship with men, her immodest manner of dress, or her inappropriate upbringing of their child – in order to control or harass the mother or to take hadhana away from her.

In divorce and child custody disputes, it is important to stress that Jordanian society regards it as the primary responsibility of a wife to maintain a marriage, even if the husband is cruel or unfaithful.

The U.S. State Department has expressly warned U.S. citizens that it is aware of cases where U.S. citizens have been subject to domestic violence and abandonment by their spouses, including incidents of restrictions of movement through travel holds, loss of custody of children or forced marriage. It advises that women and children should pay particular attention to any warning signs, including husbands or other family members withholding money or travel documents after arrival in Jordan.

Under Jordanian law, any adult male may prevent his minor children from leaving Jordan by simply registering a hold on their travel with the Jordanian authorities. Adults may place travel holds on their spouses pursuant to a court order from a Jordanian court. Adult male relatives (uncles, brothers, grandfathers) may also petition Jordanian courts for a travel hold on their unmarried adult female relatives. Immigration officials may prevent minor children traveling with their mothers from departing Jordan without the father's affirmative consent. This is possible even if the child or woman holds only U.S. nationality. Travel holds may only be removed by the person who placed them or by a court.

A court in Jordan may allow visitation rights to a parent but it is extremely difficult to secure international visitation over the objection of the other parent. In some cases, a court may allow foreign visitation only if an immediate relative of the taking parent submits himself or herself to be held hostage in jail if the child is not timely returned.

Foreign custody orders are not enforceable in Jordan if they are viewed as contradicting the Personal Status Law or other local laws and practices.

In 2006, the United States and Jordan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to encourage voluntary resolution of abduction cases and facilitate parental access to abducted children, but it has been entirely ineffective.

Jordan has failed and refused to accede to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The U.S. Government has made formal diplomatic protests to the Government of Jordan on many occasions for Jordan's demonstration of a pattern of noncompliance as defined in the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014.

Jeremy D. Morley is a New York lawyer who concentrates on international family law. He is not admitted to practice law in Jordan. He has appeared as an expert witness on Jordanian family law and has handled numerous matters concerning the family law of Jordan, but always acting with Jordanian counsel as appropriate and necessary.


Providing wise and experienced legal counsel to international families for many years

Aenean lacinia bibendum nulla sed consectetur. Donec sed odio dui. Maecenas sed diam eget risus varius blandit sit amet non magna. Nulla vitae elit libero, a pharetra augue. Curabitur blandit tempus porttitor. Morbi leo risus, porta ac consectetur ac, vestibulum at eros. Cras justo odio, dapibus ac facilisis in, egestas.