Saudis wanting a happy marriage face testing time

Saudis wanting a happy marriage face testing time
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have decided to tackle the country's growing divorce rate by giving marriage hopefuls premarital exams to assess their seriousness about tying the knot.
3 min read
20 April, 2016
Marriage is seen as an essential part of "becoming an adult" in Saudi culture [Getty]

As Saudi divorce rates "spiral out of control", according to local media, the authorities have come up with a novel idea to help cut down on the number of couples parting ways.

State officials will offer a free-of-charge online examination for marriage hopefuls - so they can find out if they are really ready to tie the knot. Divorce rates in the kingdom have long been a cause of concern.

"The test will measure the readiness to start a family. It will give test takers an assessment of the areas they need to work on and tell them how to fix their shortcomings," the National Centre for Assessment told The New Arab.

"In the beginning, the test is going to be optional, however, there are future plans to make it a requirement to obtaining a marriage contract, similar to medical examinations, within the next five years," he added.

While perceptions in Saudi Arabia are that its divorce rates are among the highest in the world, they are not out of the ordinary for the region. One in five Saudi marriages ends in divorce, 80 percent of which are over before the first wedding anniversary.

By comparison, according to the UN, Egypt has a 17 percent divorce rate, and Iran has a 22 percent rate. One in three marriages in Qatar fail, while the United States has a divorce rate of 53 percent.

      Twenty percent of Saudi marriages end in divorce [Getty]

Social worker Suhair al-Mousa said the test will allow parents to assess the maturity of young men who want to take the plunge with their daughters.

"This is a great initiative. I hope it becomes mandatory and a prerequisite to marriage. The biggest cause of the high divorce rates is men who are not fit for marriage and don't know what marital life is really like," Mousa told The New Arab.

"Marriage isn't always happy and easy-going, it comes with many problems if the couple doesn't know how to get along. Many people have been far too reckless and this must come to an end, people should only get married if they are really serious about it," she added.

In 2014, out of a population of 21 million Saudis and nine million expats, 34,000 marriages formally came to a close, three times more than the previous year, reports the justice ministry.

The Saudi media has blamed everything from Facebook and WhatsApp to the moral decay of society.

The head of Riyadh's Family Counselling Office, Jabir al-Shammari, said that "most young people" lacked mental strength and were ill-equipped for marriage, making the examination a necessity.

"Newlyweds seem to not be able to bear the responsibilities of marriage. Wives no longer perform their duties, which causes problems, and many of them have been brought up incorrectly," Shammari said.

"The end result is married couples that split up after their first disagreement."

There were 11,817 marriages registered in the first six months of 2015, but 33,954 divorces. Three times as many. That's 93 divorces a day.

But it's not all depressing. Last month, a local charity held a mass wedding for more than 100 women with disabilities.

"We wish them a happy life and righteous offspring," said Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz.

Many here also say that weddings can lead to debt and financial problems.

Weddings in Saudi Arabia are considered a financial burden, frequently costing 100,000 Saudi Riyals ($26,662), while extravagant ceremonies can reach one million ($266,627).

The cost is taken up by several main expenses including the dowry, renting and furnishing an apartment, the wedding ceremony itself and the honeymoon.