Wife’s right to dower in case of divorce initiated by wife
There exists a wide misbelief among the general people of the society that the payment of any unpaid dower is avoidable or non-payable where the process of dissolution of marriage is initiated by the wife. The right of dower is so prominent that the provision of payment is ensured both by the religion and by the operation of law and is referred to as a debt on the husband until payment in full in his lifetime and even after his death unless the wife relinquishes or gives up her right to dower. The wife's right of dower is mentioned in many verses of the Al-Qur'an, where it says that upon marriage a gift or dowry shall be paid graciously to the wife, unless waived by her willingly (4:4), and the wife shall become lawful upon payment of her full dowries (33:50).
Right of dower is guaranteed under the applicable laws of Bangladesh. Section 3 of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act, 1974, states that every marriage solemnised under Muslim law shall be registered to be considered as valid marriage. Accordingly, the law requires the fulfillment of the standardised form of Nikahnama or the marriage contract under the Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Rules, 2009, which contains the mandatory field of the details of dower, such as, the amount and mode of payment. Furthermore, section 10 of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961 states that dower is payable upon demand of the wife, and if the mode of payment is not mentioned specifically in the Nikahnama or the marriage contract, as the case may be, the entire amount is payable. In case of disregard or refusal to make the payment, the wife has the right to bring legal actions for recovery of dower under the Family Courts Ordinance, 1985.
There are two popular and largely accepted mode of payment of dower: prompt and deferred. The prompt dower is payable right away on the wedding taking place, hence, there prevails no conflict. However, the dispute arises in the case of deferred dower, since the whole or part of the amount is due and is payable on the agreed future date, even if the marriage is dissolved for divorce or death. The same is also mentioned in the Quran (2:236), that it is an obligation to pay a suitable compensation upon divorce even where the marriage is not consummated or the dower is not fixed. Therefore, there remains no space for debate anymore that where the dower has been fixed or not, and the mode of payment is deferred, it does not terminate the obligation of the husband to pay the wife's dower even in the case when the dissolution of marriage is initiated by the wife and not by the husband.
Most of the women in our society lack the knowledge of the existence of their basic rights in marriage not only as citizen but also as women, as important as the right of dower for instance. Therefore, it is the duty of the concerned authority of the government and the non-governmental organisations to introduce more awareness programmes and activities regarding the matter concerned. Also, the government may take necessary steps to add or insert a clause under the dower section of the standardised form of the Nikahnama, stating that the right to recover dower is absolute even where the dissolution of marriage is initiated by either party in the contract of marriage.
The writer is an apprentice lawyer, dhaka bar association.