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"Asbab l'il-darb ktir basita": The Legality of Claims of Violence During Judicial Divorce Cases in Damascus

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Through observations of Damascus shari'a (or Muslim family) court processing of three recent judicial divorce cases, this paper analyses court personnel's evaluations of the veracity and legal implications of allegations of domestic violence. These accusations are not articulated as a justification for judicial rulings granting divorces to female claimants in the court's files. However, despite the fact that the issue is not recorded in the paper work, allegations of physical and psychological abuse are not marginalised or ignored by the court. These claims both contribute to establishing the legally established conditions for the granting of a judicial divorce and may also be a factor in the courts ruling on what financial settlement is entailed by the termination of the marriage.

Court procedure appoints professional arbiters to hear judicial divorce claims in private sessions, and allows them considerable discretion in processing these cases since their recommendations do not have to be substantiated in their final report to the judge. It is only through observation of the arbiters' work, therefore, that conclusions can be drawn regarding the norms that contribute to their recommendations to the court. Although they often make strenuous attempts to reconcile spouses, arbiters routinely grant persistent claims and award signifiant financial entitlements. In making their recommendations, arbiters are influenced by several factors; the kinds of evidence offered to substantiate a claim, social definitions of violent acts, the nature of specific claims, pragmatism regarding the spouses'financial circumstances and the expectations of the judicial culture. These three cases demonstrate the complexity and unpredictability of the processing of cases and support the conclusion that judicial divorce claims receive a sympathetic hearing in the court.


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