Iran: Family Law

DIVORCE IN IRAN: Court Orders 80-Year Wait to Receive Dower

By order of a family court in Tehran, a young woman just divorced (2005) must wait 80 years to receive the last payment of her dower (mahr). Under the marriage law of Iran, which is based on Islamic law, it is incumbent on a man at the time of marriage to offer some property or something of value as a gift to his future wife. The closest equivalent of the term is an ancient kind of dower in England, known as "dower at the church door": after a man and woman were affianced, the man endowed his prospective wife "with the whole of his lands or such quantity as he pleased." (BLACKS LAW DICTIONARY, 4th ed. 1968)

Under the marriage law of Iran, dower is not the exchange of property or a consideration given by the man to the woman for entering into the contract; rather, the effect of the contract is as a token of respect for its subject, the woman. Marriage, in its original Islamic sense, means conjunction, and requires only the union of the parties. The amount of dower is considered to be an indication of the social status of the woman, and therefore there is usually a serious process of negotiation prior to marriage. When it is agreed upon by the parties, the mahr becomes the absolute property of the woman, who may demand that it be delivered to her any time during the marriage.

In the case at hand, the divorced wife, who had not received her mahr of 350 gold coins during the marriage, sued her former husband and asked the court to enforce the dower promise made under the marriage contract. The former husband, however, declared bankruptcy, leaving the court with no option but to order the husband to pay one gold coin tri-monthly, for a total period of 1,056 months. The 30-year-old divorced woman, left with a baby daughter under her guardianship and maintenance, will receive the last gold coin when she is 118 years old, if she is alive.

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