2 minute read



Although not prohibited, divorce is strongly discouraged in Islam and disapproved by Iranian culture. A religious saying (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Mohammad says: "Of all things permissible, divorce is the most reprehensible" (Haeri 1989). Because of the low economic activity and social status of Iranian women and their dependence on the men for sustenance and social protection, divorce carries particularly heavy costs and consequences for women. Their situation is made worse because Islamic laws give men the right to custody of their children after age three (in the case of sons) or seven (in the case of daughters).

Nevertheless, married couples who find it inconvenient to live together have the option of getting a divorce. According to Islamic law, a man can in principle divorce his wife at any time by uttering the phrase "I divorce you" in the presence of one or more adult observers. In such cases, women are only entitled to their mahri-eh. In practice, the amount of mahri-eh is often not enough to support the divorced woman for a long time and, unless it is in the form of gold or property, it can easily be eroded by inflation. This has made some women's families seek very expensive mahri-eh, in the form of property or gold coins (which do not erode with inflation). This quest has also emerged as one of the main barriers to marriage by young people.

Before the Islamic revolution, the Family Protection Law (ghanoon-e hemaayat-e khanevadeh, enacted in 1967 and revised in 1975) curtailed some of the unilateral rights of men in divorce (Aghajanian 1986). After the Islamic revolution, this law was suspended and replaced by a Special Civil Court (daadgaah-e madani-e khaas) that restored some of men's exclusive rights in divorce. After they had noted widespread abuse of this right by men, the state authorities modified the law by providing women with more protection. Under this system, women could include any conditions in the written marital contract (e.g., the right to choose place of residence, study, work, travel abroad), and can take away the unilateral right to divorce from her husband or to make it conditional. In this case the court would decide if the conditions specified in the marital contract have been met to file for divorce.

Although Iranian men can still easily obtain a divorce, the rate of marital dissolution is relatively low, hovering around 10 percent (Sanasarian 1992). Marital dissolution is particularly rare in rural and tribal communities. In urban communities and metropolitan areas, the situation is different, and the rate of divorce is reported to be higher and rising (Nassehi-Behnam 1985). Nevertheless, in a survey of a sample of educated Iranians in Tehran, only a small minority of women (24%) agreed that divorce should be made easier, despite their very limited right of obtaining it (Hojat et al. 1999). This finding indicates the cultural disgrace associated with divorce. Research on divorce in Iran, however, shows that the rate of divorce is increasing among employed women, compared to women who are not employed outside the home (Aghajanian 1986).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsIran - Marriage, Endogamy And Polygamy, Arranged Marriages, Temporary Marriage (sigheh), The Family, Premarital Sex And Extramarital Relationships