Washington Court Refuses to Enforce Saudi Child Custody Decree
From yesterday’s decision in In the Matter of the Marriage of Alhaidari, written by Chief Judge George Fearing and joined by Judges Robert Lawrence-Berrey and Rebecca Pennell (see the full opinion for more factual, procedural, and legal details):
Ghassan and Bethany AlHaidari married in Saudi Arabia in November 2013. Bethany is a United States citizen, and Ghassan is a citizen of Saudi Arabia. The couple begot ZA, in Saudi Arabia, in December 2014. ZA is a citizen of both the United States and Saudi Arabia….
In September 2017, Bethany AlHaidari asked Ghassan for a divorce. In Saudi Arabia, if Bethany filed for divorce, the law demanded that she provide a reason and return her dowry. Ghassan could file for divorce without making payment and without giving any reason. Ghassan refused the request for a divorce. Later, however, Ghassan contended that he had divorced Bethany in 2018.
Bethany AlHaidari’s legal residence in Saudi Arabia depended on the cooperation of Ghassan because, as husband, he was her legal guardian. In 2018, Bethany requested that Ghassan update her residency status in Saudi Arabia, and he refused. He also refused to allow ZA and Bethany to visit Bethany’s family in Washington State.
On February 7, 2019, Bethany AlHaidari’s permission from the Saudi Arabia government to reside in the county expired. Bethany no longer held legal status in Saudi Arabia and, therefore, could not file proceedings in the Saudi court system. She also could not pay salaries for her company’s employees, nor access her bank account for risk of being deported or jailed. The Saudi government provided her with legal residency status again after Bethany spoke to the media and the New York Times published her story.
In November 2018, Bethany filed for divorce. Bethany alleged Ghassan’s substance abuse and domestic violence to be reasons for divorce. In January 2019, a Saudi Arabia judge granted the divorce and custody of ZA to Bethany AlHaidari.
The Chelan County Superior Court described the January 2019 Saudi divorce proceedings:
1.) Bethany struggled to communicate her position and defend herself because she had no legal counsel and the court appointed interpreter did not speak or understand basic English. 2.) Bethany was denied $26,000 in alimony because Ghassan claimed he “Islamicly divorced” Bethany in May of 2018 and swore under oath he was telling the truth, despite Bethany’s testimony and text messages expressing his refusal to divorce her at that time. Bethany’s testimony was not considered because she co
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