On February 8, 2021, the Superior Court for Chelan County, Washington, issued a memorandum opinion in the case of AlHaidari v. AlHaidari. The case revolves around a child born in Saudi Arabia in December 2014 to the litigants, Bethany and Ghassan.
The parties were in the middle of significant litigation in Saudi Arabia over their child’s custody when Bethany, under the guise of reconciling, was able to secure Ghassan’s permission to visit her family in Washington State in 2019 with their daughter. After arriving in Washington State, Bethany sought a temporary emergency parenting plan and restraining order. Saudi Arabia is the minor child’s home state. The parties are already litigating custody in Saudi Arabia. There are custody orders from the Arabian courts. Must the Washington State court recognize and enforce those orders? The pertinent question revolves around whether the child custody laws of Saudi Arabia violate fundamental human rights so that the UCCJEA need not apply, and Washington State could therefore conceivably take up jurisdiction over the minor child.
The Washington Court concluded that the Saudi custody determination did not follow “any standards set forth in any Saudi law because there is no set codified child custody law in Saudi Arabia.” Given the lack of codified laws, it is difficult to determine if Saudi child custody laws violate fundamental human rights, so the court turned to examples of custody orders handed down by Saudi courts, as well as the Saudi justice system, more generally. The Court concluded that Saudi custody laws do violate fundamental human rights: that women are not treated equal to men, that non-Muslims are not treated equal to Muslims, that non-Saudi citizens are not treated equal to Saudi citizens, and that the inferior classes of individuals are denied basic due process rights, including the right to be heard before a fair and impartial tribunal.