In Syria, pro forma marital status decisions, which are reflected on marriage documents, can have negative impacts on married women’s housing, land, and property rights.
For example, in the case of an unregistered marriage, known as customary marriage, the couple agrees between themselves on a dowry that the husband owes the wife. If the couple wishes to legally register their marriage in a court, they will declare a dowry that is less than what they previously agreed upon as a way to avoid paying higher fees. As a result, the dowry as agreed upon in the customary marriage contract is the true dowry, while the dowry recorded by the court exists only on paper.
In the event of divorce, this legal discrepancy can harm the rights of the wife. Therefore, the law allows her to claim the dowry is only pro forma and to prove the actual dowry amount in accordance with Article 54/5 of Personal Status Law No. 4 of 2019. Under this law, a woman can use all methods of proof, including witnesses to the customary marriage, to prove that the legally registered dowry was merely pro forma and that her actual dowry, which she and her husband agreed upon outside the court, was a different amount.
Any other legal acts between spouses can also be pro forma. For example, a wife may relinquish a real estate property that she owns to her husband through a pro forma sales contract without receiving any payment. In this case, the wife is entitled to prove that the sales contract was pro forma, according to precedents from the Court of Cassation, including Decision No. 173 of 1975. In this decision, the court stated that the marital relationship prevents obtaining written evidence proving that a given legal act was pro forma. Instead, and in a divergence from the general rules, the wife may rely on testimonies from witnesses and other evidence.
In other words, Syrian law views the marital relationship as an obstacle to writing sales contracts between spouses which would record certain rights for the wife in particular. Article 57 of the Evidence Law of 1947 stipulated that the marital relationship prevents couples from obtaining written evidence for certain legal acts that require proof, such as proof of ownership via a written deed. This measure was reaffirmed by the Court of Cassation in its Decision No. 1112 of 1997.
A wife may also prove that a sales contract that she previously made with her husband was pro forma, even if the husband had registered the sold real estate in his name in the Land Registry. In such cases, the wife may submit a claim to cancel that registration based on the fact that the transfer of ownership had been pro forma. This right is confirmed in the Court of Cassation’s jurisprudence in Decision No. 3439 of 2001, which states that people may use personal evidence (i.e. witness testimonies) against a Land Registry entry if there is an objection.
There is no statute of limitations for cases of pro forma legal actions by a wife in favour of her husband, so long as an objection exists, according to Court of Cassation Decision No. 832 of 1980. This decision stated that an objection halts the statute of limitations.
In this case, Syrian law and jurisprudence grant married women some special legal guarantees enabling them to preserve their financial and real estate rights.