Whether Saudi Arabian laws concerning child custody are applicable to Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, and whether Islamic Law provides that following a divorce a child must live with his or her mother for a period of seven years without contact with the father, after which time the child must be returned to the father [SAU40228.E]

Information that explicitly states whether Saudi Arabian laws concerning child custody are applicable to Palestinians in Saudi Arabia could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within time constraints.

However, according to a circular entitled "Saudi Arabia - International Parental Child Abduction," which is published by the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the United States Department of State,

In Saudi Arabia, child custody is based on Islamic law. The primary concern of Saudi courts in deciding child custody cases is that the child be raised in accordance with the Islamic faith. ...
Saudi courts generally do not award custody of children to non-Saudi women. If the mother is an Arab Muslim, judges will usually not grant her custody of children unless she is residing in Saudi Arabia, or the father is not a Muslim. ...
Normally, under Shari'a law, a mother can maintain custody of her male children until the age of nine, and female children until the age of seven. In practice the courts favor keeping children within a strict Islamic environment. Shari'a court judges have broad discretion in custody cases and often make exceptions to these general guidelines.
Even when a mother who is residing in Saudi Arabia is granted physical custody of children, the father maintains legal custody and has the right to determine where the children live and travel. In many cases, the father has been able to assume legal custody of children against the wishes of the mother when she is unable or unwilling to meet certain conditions set by law for her to maintain her custodial rights. For example, if the mother moves to another country, the father is entitled to have custody. A court can sever a mother's custody if it determines that the mother is incapable of safeguarding the child or of bringing the child up in accordance with the appropriate religious standards. The mother can lose custody by re-marrying a non-Muslim, or by residing in a home with non-relatives. Shari'a law allows custody of children to be awarded to the closest male relative of a Saudi father in the case of death or imprisonment of the father, even if the Saudi father has made clear his wish that the children's mother have full custody (Jan. 2002).

According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World,

In [shari'ah] law custody of children goes first to the mother, but only during early childhood; custody then reverts to the father, since as a man he is deemed better qualified to oversee the child's education. Schools of law vary on the exact age at which a mother's right to custody of her children terminates in favor of the father, but the age range in Sunn( practice is seven to ten for a boy and nine to the onset of puberty or time of marriage for girls. [Shafi'I] law grants children the right to choose the custodial parent at age seven. In Twelver [Shi'i] law the father gains custody of a boy at age two and of a girl at age seven. In all schools of law, if the mother remarries at any time while her children are in her care, she jeopardizes her right to retain custody (1995).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. 1995. Vol. 3. John L. Esposito, Editor in Chief. New York: Oxford University Press.

United States. Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State. January 2002. "Saudi Arabia - International Parental Child Abduction." http://travel.state.gov/abduction_saudi.html [Accessed 24 Oct. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

The Encyclopaedia of Islam. 1991. Vol. II. Edited by B. Lewis, Ch. Pellat and J. Schacht. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill.


Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. 1997. Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law. London: I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd.

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia did not respond to a letter requesting information within time constraints.

Uthman, Sheik Muhammad Rif'at. 1995. Laws of Marriage in Islam. 1995. London: Dar Al Taqwa Ltd.

Internet sites, including:

Arab News [Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran]. http://www.arabnews.com/

Emory University. http://www.law.emory.edu/IFL/legal/saudiarabia.htm

Middle East News. http://www.middleeastnews.com

Saudi Arabia. Ministry of Justice. http://www.moj.gov.sa/ (In Arabic.)

Saudi Arabian Information Resource. http://www.saudinf.com/

Saudi Press Agency. http://www.spa.gov.sa/

United Nations. http://www.un.org

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. http://www.unhchr.ch/

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