Going after errant ex-hubbies

Going after errant ex-hubbies

Hamidah Abdul Wahab was at her wits' end when her ­ex-husband Jamaludin Mohamad refused to pay maintenance for her and their children even though she had obtained an order from the Syariah Court ordering him to pay up.

The case dragged on for years until the Selangor Syariah Court's Family Support Division stepped in.

And suddenly, Jamaludin was able to cough up the RM100,000 (S$37,300) in cash for his ex-wife and kids.

It was the same situation with Zubaidah Abd Ghani as her ex-husband Jarident Waising also refused to pay maintenance for six years.

The division intervened, media­ted, and Jarident paid RM44,020 in cash for the years that he didn't pay the alimony.

These are some of the success stories cited by Chief Syarie Judge of the Department of Syariah Judiciary Selangor, Dr Mohd Na'im Mokthar, in highlighting the role of the Family Support Division that exists within the Syariah system, in a recent talk at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia (IAIS).

Na'im points out that the division was set up in 2008 when it was found that an astounding 12,300 ex-husbands and fathers had refused to comply with the maintenance order issued by the Syariah Court, thereby causing hardship for their ex-wives and children.

These women did not even inform the court that their ­ex-husbands were refusing to pay. They simply did not know what to do or where to turn to. Going to a lawyer was out of the question for them because it would only cost them money that they did not have.

The division was set up to help these women track down errant ex-husbands and fathers and make them pay the amount determined in the maintenance order.

Na'im says the Syariah Court clearly works in a different way from the Civil Court because with the Civil Court, the court's duty is over once the judgement has been issued. The court does not monitor or enforce the judgement.

But when it comes to the Syariah Court, it works on a different philosophy.

Na'im points to the Second Caliph Sayidina Umar who laid down an important principle that "an order is useless if it cannot be enforced".

"So we have come to the conclusion that in the Syariah Court, our duty is not absolved unless we make the effort to ensure the judgement is actually enforced and executed," he says.

"This means it is mandatory for the court to do justice and make sure the judgement made is translated into actual money." Hence the Family Support Division's officers are legally trained because one of their key roles is to provide legal advice to divorced women and children for free.

There is also an Enforcement and Implementation of Order Unit in the division that works towards "enforcing" the maintenance order and getting the ex-husbands and fathers to pay up.

A significant and interesting detail too is how the division is able to track down ex-husbands and fathers who have gone "missing" for years.

Na'im says many ex-wives and mothers get so disappointed and fed up because when they get the maintenance order from the Syariah Court, they do not know how to serve it as they have no clue as to where their ­ex-husbands are.

"Many husbands and fathers are like chocolate chips (cookies). They go 'missing' and move from state to state."

Hiring a private investigator to find the men would of course cost money.

This is where the division comes in quite handy.

Na'im says it has a strong networking with most of the government agencies, including the EPF, the Road Transport Department (JPJ), the Home Ministry, the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (Mampu), which would have the data of these ex-husbands and fathers.

"We get the data for free and are able to trace these ­ex-husbands and fathers.

"Some are very shocked that after five years or 10 years (of them moving around), their ex-wives are suddenly able to know their whereabouts."

He says when the division has traced the whereabouts of the ex-husband and father, it would file a notice and summons to get him to comply with the court judgement and pay the arrears owed to the ex-wife and children.

"Previously, it was difficult for their ex-wives to find them. But once they have been found and know that we are getting support from the government agencies, then they start paying.

"I am proud to say that almost 60 per cent of the ex-husbands we have found have paid the arrears and maintenance," he says.

Na'im admits that the division has also come across a number of recalcitrant ex-husbands and fathers who simply refuse to pay child support and maintenance for their ex-wives, even after they have been given a stern warning.

In such cases, he says the enforcement unit would push for an execution order from the court and this process will take about six months.

He adds they might even file an application to have the ­ex-husband's assets auctioned off to pay for the maintenance and support.

During the wait of six months or so, he says, the division also has a Fund Management Unit with a revolving fund.

This unit will give an advance to the ex-wife and children so that they will have the money to survive while waiting for the process to be completed.

For instance, if the maintenance order is for RM2,000 a month, the total for six months is RM12,000.

"Once we have auctioned off the property of the ex-husband, we will recover the RM12,000 that we had given out as advance and put it back into the fund to be used by other women and children," he says.

"Believe me, there have been quite a number of cases where the ex-husband and the father have been jailed for non-­compliance of the maintenance order!"

Naim says one of the difficulties the division faces at times is when the ex-wife backs down.

"Sometimes they feel kesian and don't want to send their ex-husband to jail, so they ask us to drop the case," he shares.

The division has also set up a Transit Unit to support the ex-wife or children coming from other states to the Syariah Court in Kuala Lumpur or Putrajaya to pursue their maintenance order but who have financial difficulties making that trip.

The unit has converted some government quarters into a transit centre for the women to stay temporarily while the court proceedings are going on.

The unit also takes care of all their meals during their stay and pays for the return bus fare from the state to KL or Putrajaya and for the taxi fare from the transit accommodation to the court and back.

"We've had cases of women from Kelantan and other states discontinuing their cases because they don't have a place to stay in KL or they can't pay for transportation, so we created this so that they can continue the fight and not use financial constraint as an excuse to discontinue."

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