PETALING JAYA: Money matters apparently have replaced infidelity as the “final straw” reason for the surge in divorce cases among Malaysians during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sarawak Syarie Lawyers Association president Harizan Hamzah and Selangor Bar chairman V. Kokila Vaani told theSun that many who filed for divorce blamed it on the financial troubles they were facing due to the pandemic.

“Many had lost their jobs, incomes and this eventually led to the collapse of their marriages,” they said.

Harizan said the pandemic has been an eye-opener to many couples as women particularly are brave to get out of an unhappy marriage as they have been exposed to much knowledge.

“During the lockdowns, we have been exposed to knowledge about our rights through webinars or social media platforms,” she said.

Kokila said for some married couples, the long quarantine period was seen as a honeymoon to spend some quality time together but for others, being confined with their partners with nowhere to go was a nightmare.

“I remember having a client who sought a divorce because of too much face time and the smallest things, like not putting the toilet seat up, can trigger arguments,” she said.

“An argument which seemed to be far-fetched is now a reality during the pandemic,” she said.

Harizan and Kokila were commenting on a reply in Parliament recently by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law) Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin that an average of 140 divorce petitions are filed daily nationwide.

Of that number, 121 were by Muslim couples.

Harizan said even before the pandemic, many were struggling with their partners and some just put up with it probably for the sake of their children and maybe they are not the breadwinners for their family.

“Compared with their peers in the 70s or even 90s where cases were not high, couples now have more knowledge about their rights,” she said.

“This has led to a surge in cases where women are now brave enough to file divorce applications and fight for justice as they are able to live independently with no fear for the title ‘janda’ (divorcee),” she said.

“Before the pandemic, exposure on their rights was lacking but now that they have a lot of time at home, they spend more time surfing the net,” she said.

She recalled a case where her physically-abused client had finally walked out of the marriage, which is good for her. Another common factor which led to divorce among Muslims was when their partner’s biggest secret – getting a second wife – was exposed.

Harizan recalled a case when a wife found out that her husband had married another woman years ago but she only became aware of it during the lockdown.

“This secret came out when everybody was confined to their own homes, so the wife found out her husband had cheated on her,” she said.

To her, the saddest case she handled involved a couple who had just turned 18 or 19 when the husband asked for a divorce after the wife had just given birth.

“It happened last year, where this couple filed their divorce application and when I called them to discuss their case, it did not end well as they were quarrelling like two children,” she said.

Kokila, the first woman chairman of the Selangor Bar, said other marital irritants during MCO include too much screen time, uneven distribution of household chores and child care, depression and anxiety.

“Infidelity used to be the No. 1 reason clients gave pre-MCO,” she said.

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