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Pakistan Makes Taking a Second Wife More Difficult

If you're a wife in the US, what's your legal protection if your husband takes a mistress and spends money to support her? It depends on the state you live in. Some say this is grounds for divorce. Others will grant a divorce only after you two have been separated for a certain period of time. Some say it's grounds for your financial needs to prevail in a divorce. Others say you'll make an equal split of the assets and debts from the time you were married, regardless of his expenditures on a mistress. If you don't want a divorce, the law is no help at all.

It's different in Pakistan. Taking a mistress is grounds for imprisonment. But taking a second wife is legal. Last month, they qualified that option.

On August 26, 2020, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that a man may not take a second wife without the permission of his first wife or an arbitration council. This comes despite the religious rule their government adheres to allows men up to four wives.

To folks who grew up believing in two-person marriages or even one man one woman marriages, this can sound like madness. In today's environment, the rationale that men with more assets ought to take in and care for the women and children unable to support themselves in a patriarchal society seems to make a lot less sense. But we don't easily drop traditions rooted in our religious beliefs.

But which is madder?

There is a penalty for violating this rule. On the day a couple marries, usually in a marriage arranged by their elders, they agree to an amount called the haq mehr, which the husband (who bears a legal responsibility for caring for his wife and children) will be required to pay his wife in the event of a divorce he initiates. They usually agree he'll owe her a much smaller portion (khula) if she initiates a divorce. They might agree he will pay it all at once or over time. The haq mehr may be listed in gold or in real estate or in livestock, so that currency fluctuations don't diminish it. Take another wife without her agreement, even though a second wife is legal, and the entire haq mehr debt becomes due that day.

While I still dislike the fact that their laws are based on sex, I salute Pakistan for coming up with a solution to the ugly problem of a third party to a marriage, a party unwanted by the less financially independent spouse.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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