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Tonboon-e faati
With so few rights, Iranian brides-to-be are extra cautious

By Nasim Bagheri
December 2, 1998
The Iranian

Mr. Soroosh:

I read your article "Marrying an Iranian woman" with interest. There are two faces to a coin, the Persian saying goes. Although you are very much attached to your heritage, I am surprised at your naivete when approaching such a delicate subject as marriage with an Iranian woman. Perhaps it is the idealism and the romantic in you that beckoned your loved one to let go of all the traditions and the "strings" that hold her to her roots, and to join you in the land of the free. Things are not that easy in the real world and especially in today's Iran. In the words of Hafez:

... Eshgh aassaan nemood avval, vali oftaad moshkel-haa!

Under Iranian law (which incidentally predates the current regime) a woman has limited rights to her husband's assets either during her marriage to him or in the event of divorce or death. In case of his death a woman will inherit one eighth of her husband's cash assets (excluding land, building or stocks). After the belongings are all divvied up among the man's offsprings, siblings and parents, the wife's share comes LAST. A woman's only "security" in case her husband decides to divorce her or dies is her mahriyeh (dowry).

Based on a growing lack of trust and the economic hardships that most people face in modern day Iran, unreasonable demands are being made of Iranian men - possibly more so if he is a returning expatriate wishing to marry an Iranian woman. On the other hand, the horror stories that one hears of betrothed women left at the altar by fiances across the waters, or the unpleasant surprises some women face when they arrive in the U.S. to be united with their husbands do not exactly leave one with warm feelings. Families have become cautious.

You may note that contrary to popular belief, bringing a spouse from Iran to the United States is neither easy nor quick. Some applications have been known to take over two years. Upon receiving a permit to enter the U.S. the spouse is initially granted a two-year conditional visa to ascertain that the marriage is bona fide. Should a divorce take place during these two years, the spouse will not be subject to the divorce laws of the U.S. and she will not be allowed to remain in this country either.

As the wife of an Iranian man, a woman requires the written permission of her husband to leave Iran or to seek employment. A man has the right to divorce his wife with no valid reason, whereas a woman can seek divorce in three cases: i) His proven infertility (after five years of marriage), ii) His insanity (extensive medical records required), iii) His refusal to maintain financial support for over six months. In the event of a divorce, the man receives custody of the children. In short, a man who enters into marriage in Iran, whether he knows it or not, has unconditional rights whereas a woman has none.

Now, I am not suggesting that you are the type of person who would exercise these rights. But there are those who do. It is rather difficult to have the level of trust required to enter into a trans-global marriage with someone whom you have had but a few encounters. The mahriyeh, will not make a good person out of an ill-intentioned individual but perhaps may be viewed as a token of good will. If the laws in this country were similar to those in Iran, I dare say, you would witness very few women rushing to the altar without a pre-nuptial agreement.

If you and this woman loved each other so much, it stands to reason to assume that your intentions were nothing but honorable and therefore neither of you would be scheming to turn the marriage into personal gain. Then why would a mahriyeh (small or large), which you would never had had to pay, put you off?

I am neither for nor against mahriyeh myself but what I would like to point out here is that it is very hard to apply the laws and ethics of one culture to those of another. It appears to me that the family of this woman was only trying to protect her rights rather than put a price on her love.

With regards to this woman's mother getting involved in her daughter's affairs, please note that this is not strictly an Iranian phenomenon. You must have encountered a similar type of behavior if, in your search for love among Westerners, you dated Latin or Jewish women. And please remember the same mother who was keen to guide her daughter's future, albeit a bit too vehemently, gave her the Persian heart which you so madly fell in love with.


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