Unexpected Win for American Mother Who Fought for Custody of her Saudi Daughter

Published November 10th, 2019 - 08:33 GMT
Bethany Vierra, right, with her daughter Zaina
Bethany Vierra, right, with her daughter Zaina

After a long legal battle, the Saudi court gave Bethany Vierra, an American who married a Saudi, joint custody of their 4-year-old daughter and the right to travel with her abroad.

Vierra moved to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and married a Saudi businessman two years later. The couple soon had a child, Zaina but the marriage did not last, as Vierra accused her husband of being abusive and filed for divorce.

After the divorce, she ran into legal problems because her ex-husband remained the sponsor of her residency in Saudi Arabia as well as the legal guardian of their daughter, which meant he could bar Vierra from taking their child abroad even though Zaina was a dual Saudi-American citizen.

Vierra tried to win custody in court but a Saudi judge named her ex-husband’s mother as the child’s legal guardian, in part to keep the girl from being raised by a Westerner.

“Since the mother is new to Islam and a foreigner in this country and embraces customs and traditions in the way she was raised, we must avoid exposing Zaina to these traditions,” the judge wrote.

On her social media, Bethany Vierra announced that she and her ex-husband had “worked out a custody agreement centering around her and us.” While she did not provide all of the agreement’s details, she said she had been afforded a number of rights that “seem basic elsewhere but are so difficult here,” calling the new custody agreement “a revolution.” 

Vierra’s struggle highlighted the legal issues that women in Saudi Arabia face after getting divorced, although her situation was further complicated due to her being a foreigner. The kingdom has long been known as one of the world’s most restrictive places for women.  

Without providing much detail, Vierra announced that a new ruling had granted her the right to travel with her child and to remarry without losing custody of her daughter, which is uncommon in countries that adhere to Islamic legal regulations. 

She plans to take her daughter to the US soon.

“Christmas in America y’all, God willing,” Vierra wrote on Facebook. “It will be the most emotional homecoming of my life.”

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