My husband does not support me or my child financially. Can I ask for a divorce?
I am a married woman and have one child. My husband’s parents moved in to live with us and they were supporting us financially. They offered me money to continue my studies along with my husband but I did not want to burden them and preferred to look after my family and keep working to help in feeding the family. My husband finished his studies yet he does not spend any money on us and he depends on me to support the family. I want to ask for divorce. Also who should take custody over the child?
An important factor in the life of every married couple has, to all appearances, gone wrong with your marriage. It is the demarcation of responsibility, which seems to have been lost when the roles of your husband and yourself were reversed. It is the duty of every husband to provide his wife with a decent standard of living according to his means. It is well known that in Islam, a wife who is rich need not spend from her money to pay for the expenses of her children or herself, let alone those of her husband. That responsibility belongs totally to her husband.
Although a Muslim woman enjoys these privileges, it is permissible for her to work outside her home, invest her money and conduct any business transaction she likes. All Muslims, men and women, must observe a guiding principle. That principle requires us to observe Islamic values and fulfill Islamic directives wherever we are and in whatever work we engage in. Therefore, if a Muslim woman wants to attend to her business, run a shop, manage a company, or discharge the duties of her employment, she must not neglect her family duties. It may happen that a woman finds it difficult to meet both obligations and she may need the help of her husband, or she may need to employ a domestic helper, sitter or the like. Such matters are mutually decided upon by both spouses. Whatever they agree upon is permissible as long as they break no Islamic teachings. A woman is entitled to help her husband with some of her earnings and he commits no sin by accepting her contribution provided he does pressure or coerce her into it. If she is under pressure to make such a payment, it is not lawful for him to take it. Her contributions must be made willingly.
I should perhaps explain that the foregoing is a general statement. Every married couple should decide how to divide the responsibilities between them and what each one of them should do and the privileges they can enjoy. Therefore, when your husband suspended financial support as a result of the moving of his parents, it was perfectly appropriate for you to make use of your parents' generosity and finish your studies. Your subsequent action of looking after the family while your husband completed his studies was a thoughtful action for which you earned a reward from God and the admiration of people. You were obviously looking forward to a day when both you and your husband would cooperate to improve your family situation and lay the foundation for a bright future. Therefore, your disappointment at the lack of cooperation shown by your husband is understandable.
You ask whether your husband has committed a sin by not providing you and your son with a home and not looking after you. I would not describe this as a sinful action but as a failure to meet a duty. If such a failure is the result of complacency, negligence or laziness, then he will have to account for it on the Day of Judgment. On the other hand, if he tried to find a job and spared no effort to get some sort of employment but his efforts were unsuccessful due to circumstances beyond his control, then he has nothing to answer for. You are better able to judge whether he has been negligent or complacent.
Any woman may seek a divorce if she feels that her life with her husband is an unhappy one. We have the case of a Companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who made it clear to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that she wanted a divorce. She explained that she had nothing against her husband but was simply not satisfied with her life with him. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked her husband to divorce her after she returned to him the dowry he had paid her. This shows that it is permissible for a married woman to seek a divorce from her husband if her marriage is unhappy. She may be required to refund any dowry her husband might have paid her.
The case of your child is a rather difficult one. It is certain that you are entitled to the custody of the child if he or she is below nine years of age. Thereafter, the child may be offered a choice between his parents. The father remains responsible to provide him with food, clothes and housing.
From your line of questioning I feel that you are troubled by your husband's repeated requests for financial support for himself and your child. Your worry is not unreasonable since you have not chosen to be in the situation you are in. Judging by your account, it appears to me that your husband seems to have gotten used to being supported by you and does not feel the urge to find work to spare you the need of working abroad. You have assumed the role of the breadwinner. To put your mind at ease, I tell you that you commit no sin if you refuse to make any transfers to your husband. Perhaps it is wiser if you write to tell him that he should do his best to relieve you of the responsibility of maintaining the family. It is time that he assumes this responsibility and finds work for himself, either in his home country or abroad. You should make it clear to him that if he finds a suitable job, which gives him enough to support his family, you are prepared to join him. Alternatively, he should join you and find some employment in the country where you are working. Again, if you refuse to transfer any money to your son, you neglect no duty of yours. You are not responsible for supporting your child. It is your husband's responsibility. It may be wise to try to get your husband to see the urgency of finding work by refusing to make any transfers to him for a few months. You will then be able to judge his reaction to this. If this works and he finds employment, then you can gradually readjust your life so that your husband is the breadwinner who is responsible for his family.
You ask about the rights of divorced parents with respect to visitation. If you are divorced and the child is with you, the father is entitled to visit the child or have the child visit him. The same applies to you. In Islam there is no denial of access to the child to either parent, unless there is a valid reason determined by the courts.
You ask whether you can remain friends with your husband after divorce. This is perfectly appropriate. In Islam, divorce does not mean hostility. It simply signifies that two people have found it difficult to live together and have therefore decided to go their separate ways. It does not mean that they have to become enemies for the rest of their lives. A former husband is like any other man. And since they have to discuss certain matters together related to the upbringing of their children, they may meet in the presence of some of the woman’s immediate relatives. During these meetings, she should wear the same type of clothes she wears when she goes out.