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Nouf Alarjani

Date of Award


Author's School

School of Law

Degree Name

Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)

Degree Type



Child custody is an area of civil law that is often contested. The Saudi legal system and the American legal system are fundamentally different, although, they both treat custody as a very important matter. Among one of the distinctions is that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a custodial dispute may arise between a married couple. Additionally, due to the religious and cultural values, the number of custodial disputes between unmarried parents is nearly nonexistent. This research compares the laws regarding child custody in both nations, with a special emphasis on how the courts determine custody based on a child’s best interests, for the purpose of developing a more consistently child-centered approach for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This research examines these laws by asking a series of questions, including the source and status of parental rights under each legal system, the meaning of custody in the two nations, the legal role of the child’s interests and needs, and the legal role of gender and religion in custody determinations. Through a thorough analysis, this research attempts to find a means for improving the practices surrounding custodial determinations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, specifically regarding the enforcement of custodial agreements. This research begins with an explanation of the two legal systems and an overview of the different definitions related to custody. Chapter Two continues by providing the historical foundation for current family law practices in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, providing additional legal context surrounding current definitions and the way in which they are applied. This foundation is important as the history of custodial law influences the way in which the law is applied. Chapter Three presents applicable international law, specifically highlighting ways in which nations are accountable for the rights of their children and explaining the gaps in these laws and their application. Chapter Four highlights the custodial rights that belong to the child, in the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These rights are distinguished from the custodial rights that belong to the parent(s). Chapter Five discusses custody determinations and the way in which courts decide in cases of conflict. Additionally, the distinction is made between the two nations regarding the way in which conflict in cases is addressed. Chapter Six systematically reviews case law through specific cases presented. This chapter explores more than just the law, as it analyzes the way in which the law is applied on a case-by-case basis. The law is examined as well as the exceptions to the law. Chapter Seven ends this research with an in-depth analysis of best practices, paying special attention to recommendations for continued development. The purpose of this chapter is to focus on what areas of the law and its implementation can be improved so that those children involved in custodial disputes can be best served.

Chair and Committee

Susan Appleton, Supervising Professor Marion Crain, Examining Professor Aria Nakissa, Examining Professor

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