KuwaitOther News

Language barrier still stands between expats and their rights

Two lawyers raise awareness about Kuwait family law

Attorney Najmah Brown and Attorney Atyab Al-Shatti

KUWAIT: They did not mind waiting more than 40 minutes before an English seminar on Kuwait family law began at the TIES Center. A few men and some more women had shown up looking for answers. They did not want to be identified, so photography was not allowed during the talk.  They were all overwrought due to their constant calls for redress in courts.
The language barrier and legal ignorance are the main reasons why some expats are easily deceived and robbed of their rights, even by the people closest to them. After all, the law does not protect dupes. Unfortunately, it is hard in Kuwait to find a detailed English-language translation of the personal status and family law, unlike trade-related laws that aim to attract foreign investors and help them easily navigate the system.

So what can happen if things get messed up between you and your spouse? Two lawyers from Al-Adwani law firm took out some time and spoke to Kuwait Times to raise awareness about the family law in Kuwait. “Lawyers working in the office in all disciplines, along with the managing director of the international department attorney Najmah Brown and I, handle family issues and criminal and commercial cases. We are currently focusing on the new law of creating the court of law no.12/2015 and law no. 51/1984 of personal status,” said attorney Atyab Al-Shatti.

Being stuck
Brown, an American lawyer, has dealt with a raft of commercial and corporate cases. “On the personal side, a lot of the questions I have been getting from expats are about employment and family issues, because they are the cases that are lost most. They are probably stuck in a position where no one is there to defend them,” she added.

It is everyone’s responsibility to educate themselves – all individuals have to keep up with the latest updates with regards to a country’s laws and regulations before falling into trouble. “Many problems could have been avoided if everyone knew their rights and obligations. The government and the media of Kuwait are also responsible to educate people of all groups, faiths and languages. The communication gap is immense,” asserted Shatti.

In Kuwait’s conservative and discreet society, it is seen as shameful to publicly address family conflicts. So the firm was willing to share the presentation they made during the seminar in order to spread the benefit. “I have some friends who should have attended, but they did not want anyone to witness them coming to our seminar on family law,” said Brown.
The enforcement of the family law in Kuwait is determined by the nationalities of married couples and their faith. If a Kuwaiti woman is married to a non-Kuwaiti, the law will be applied. But if both are non-Kuwaitis, then the law of the land to which the husband belongs to shall be applied in Kuwaiti courts. Sunni and Shiite courts also differ in their legal opinions and legislation. Correspondingly, marriage and divorce among non-Muslims are not resolved by Islamic law.

In a maze
Due to these complexities, expatriates find themselves in a maze, especially when they cannot get a translator in the family courtroom. “There is no directory to serve non-Arabic speaking expats to help them find an attorney who speaks their language. At the same time, as far as I know, not every law firm has an English-speaking attorney. In fact, a great deal of our business comes by word of mouth,” said Brown.

“In felony cases, a translator is present before an accused individual, but people find it difficult to find a translator in matters of personal status, which creates a big misunderstanding as a consequence. Of course, Kuwaiti law requires the presence of a translator, but when it comes to reality, they are hard to find!” noted Shatti.

During their seminar, Shatti and Brown reviewed the most common issues faced by expatriates in Kuwait, such as visitation and travel rights, divorce and child custody, in addition to getting expenses and nationality according to the Sunni and Shiite doctrines.  They stressed the importance of getting advice from lawyers and not from unauthorized persons. Given the demographic makeup of the country, where expats outnumber nationals two to one, they are predisposed to fill the courts due to a lack of legal awareness. Hence, full language communication is necessary to give everyone their rights.

By Athoob Al-Shuaibi

Back to top button