Note: The following is an extract from the anonymous brochure entitled "Marriage to Saudis," which was published and distributed by the consular bureau of the U.S. Department of State in the mid-1990s and later withdrawn under pressure.
If the Marriage to a Saudi Fails
In the worst scenario, an American wife can find herself summarily divorced, deported, and deprived of any right of visitation with her dual-national children. Sharia law decidedly favors men in the dissolution of marriage. And the laws of Saudi Arabiarequire that all individuals be sponsored by a Saudi citizen in order to receive a visa, resident or otherwise.
Therefore, once a marriage breaks up, the ex-wife must leave the Kingdom and may only return with the explicit permission and sponsorship of her ex-husband. (In cases where the Saudi husband attempts to prevent his spouse from leaving, the Embassy can call upon Saudi authorities to facilitate the American wife's departure. The Embassy cannot force a Saudi husband to relinquish the children.)
In one instance, an American who had undergone a bitter divorce and child custody battle with her Saudi husband, applied for and received a visa to work with a company located in the Kingdom. Once the Saudi husband and the Saudi authorities discovered her presence, she was thrown into jail and ultimately forced to leave her position and the country.
What custody rights do women have under Sharia law?
Theoretically, a mother should maintain custody of the children until the ages of 7-9, when their primary care would be transferred to their father. However, the ultimate objective of a Sharia court in the settlement of custody issues is that the child be raised a good Muslim. Whether a convert or not to Islam, an American woman will not overcome the prejudice against her upbringing and society. The Embassy has no knowledge of an American or any western woman ever winning custody of dual-national children in a Sharia court.
Can an American mother flee the Kingdom with her dual national children?
It is impossible to legally leave the Kingdom without the express permission of the Saudi husband. A woman who wishes to leave her husband but is pregnant at the time, can be required to wait until after the birth of the child. The same would hold true if the Saudi husband passed away: custody of the children and any unborn child would remain with the closest living Saudi male relative.
Can an American woman be denied visitation rights with her children?
A Saudi husband must give explicit permission for a divorced wife to visit her children in the Kingdom. The Embassy has worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to create the "no-objection" visa. The ex-husband must be willing to sign a statement that he has no objection to his ex-wife visiting the Kingdom. In that statement, the ex-husband establishes how long he is willing to let his ex-wife remain in the country. The history of no-objection visas is mixed.
A husband often objects to the emotional disruption of a visit from the American wife. Often the husband's second wife becomes jealous, and the American mother finds that her visits are restricted in time and carried out in full view of the extended Saudi family.
Only one American wife has successfully made no-objection visits over the course of the last five years. She has been successful because she speaks Arabic (dual-national children quickly lose their English skills once their mother departs the Kingdom), has managed to maintain steady relations with her ex-husband, and reconciled herself to the fact that her child would spend at least his first 18 years in the Kingdom. If the custody dispute has involved kidnapping by one or both parents, then by the time the children reach the Kingdom the father has no interest in facilitating relations with the American citizen mother. In these cases, all communication can be closed off and Saudi authorities will not intercede in family disputes. Consular Officers are rarely permitted to pay "Welfare and Whereabouts" visits.