A Syrian law grants women a so-called “privileged debt” status as part of their financial rights arising from their marriage contracts, including dowries and any potential alimony. Under the law, some of their debts are given priority for collection when a debtor has multiple debts to pay.
The maher, or dowry, debt is a privilege that grants a woman the right to collect her husband’s assets, whether movable or immovable. She may collect her dowry debt even if her husband’s assets are burdened by seizures or other debts.
A woman can collect her dowry directly through the Department of Implementation at the Sharia Court. As a condition for dowry collection, her marriage contract must be legally registered with the court. However, if it is a customary marriage, she must file a legal case in order to register the marriage and the amount of the dowry. Only upon doing so can she obtain the dowry payment.
When a woman goes to the Sharia Court to collect her dowry, the marriage contract (or the court ruling confirming her customary marriage) is put into effect. The court then notifies her husband, who must pay the dowry within five days of notification. If he fails to pay, then the court can detain him for a period of 90 days. Afterwards, the wife is entitled to seize his movable and immovable assets.
In cases where the marriage contract specifies that the dowry be received in the form of purchased goods, which may include real estate, the court rules in favour of the wife’s right to those belongings, which the husband must hand over to her. In Decision No. 171 of 1981, the Jurisprudence of the Court of Cassation considers the wife’s right to those belongings to be a ‘right in rem’ – that is, a right related to the belongings themselves, rather than their price.
The same rules generally apply to alimony, which is considered a marital debt privilege and has precedence over the dowry under Article 1120 of the Civil Code. According to the Personal Status Law, alimony includes food, clothing, and housing. A woman must submit a claim to the Sharia Court, then wait until the court issues a ruling before she can receive alimony. The court’s decision may be implemented immediately after its issuance even if it is not final. Because appeals against such decisions do not halt the implementation of alimony, Syrian law gives these decisions a status of “expedited enforcement.”
When the court rules in favour of alimony, it then puts the ruling into effect and notifies the husband that he must pay. If he fails to pay, then the court may detain him and seize both his movable and immovable assets in order to implement the payment of the alimony debt.
The alimony ruling is subject to a statute of limitations after five years, as the alimony debt is considered to be a periodically renewable right according to the jurisprudence of the Court of Cassation’s Decision No. 147/167 of 1972. This is why all measures must be taken to halt the statute of limitations and prevent the loss of a woman’s right to alimony, including submitting a request to renew the executive seizure of her husband’s assets or to renew his detainment.
However, Article 73 of the Personal Status Law states that a wife may lose her right to alimony, in few cases, such as if she leaves the marital home – that is, the residence that her husband has chosen for her – without a legitimate justification.