Alimony payments under attack in Turkey

The alimony rights of women in Turkey have been under attack for almost a year and was brought into focus last month when two Turkish celebrities, Acun Ilıcalı and Şeyma Subaşı, got divorced after a 14-month marriage.

Ilıcalı, the owner of a television channel and producer of Turkey’s many reality shows, will pay Subaşı, a social media influencer, 125,000 lira ($ 23,300) monthly for spousal and child support, and will buy a house worth of 10 million lira ($1.86 million) to be registered in their daughter’s name.

Subaşı’s alimony provided ammunition for some men who are organised on social media in several initiatives such as “the Platform for the Family” and “the Association of Fathers and Children”. Those groups say men are condemned to pay alimonies forever once they get divorced and are exploited by women.

“Alimony paid for an unlimited time is a violation of human rights,” Erkut Erdoğan, a men’s rights activist said on Twitter. “The divorces and wars following them cost many lives and can be prevented.” 

Women’s rights groups, on the other hand, say alimonies are paid for limited periods and there are serious restrictions that usually prevent women receiving support from their former spouses.

“People think that all of us receive alimonies like Şeyma Subaşı,” said Zeynep, a woman divorced three years ago when her son was three-and-a-half years old. 

“The amount I get only pays my child’s school expenses and one of my bills, not even enough to pay the monthly gas bill,” she said, adding that she had to leave her career after her son was born.

“I was working in advertising, you know that it is a sector that continuously changes and is difficult to return once you leave it. I have been looking for a job for two years since my child started kindergarten, but could not find one equal to my previous status,” she said.

According to women’s rights groups in Turkey, alimony rights are particularly important for those who had been exposed to domestic violence during their marriages. 

The 2012 Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence Against Women, also known as the Law No. 6284, is considered a milestone in that it gives judges the right to rule for alimony in favour of women in the case of domestic violence.

Though alimony rights for other cases are regulated under the civil code, the men, who say they are the real victims of violence for paying alimonies, particularly attack law No. 6284.

“During our five-year marriage, I was subject to psychological violence,” said Ceren, who got married when she was 20 years old. “I had a child, but I did not have economic freedom. This was why I could not get divorced and forgave him each time.”

Ceren T. managed to get divorced after two years of struggle. She has been receiving monthly alimony of 500 lira ($93). 

“After getting divorced, I moved to my parent’s house. I receive the minimum wage and cooked food in a private school. His contribution is marginal as he does not pay it most of the time or, when he does, threatens me asking with which men I spend the money. But in those months he pays, I can provide additional opportunities for my child,” she said.

Her story backs up the arguments of women’s rights groups, who say that in most cases, even if the court rules in favour of alimony, men avoid paying.

In Turkey, women’s participation in the labour force is at 33.8 percent according to 2017 figures and many parents or husbands do not allow their daughters and wives to work.

That was the case for Gülcan, who got married when she was 18 and divorced when she was 45 after having four children. Under such circumstances, alimony plays a crucial role in helping women get out of unhappy marriages. 

Her parents, Gülcan said, “did not send me to school. They did not want me to make my own living. Is getting an alimony my own fault?” 

“In here, they say that once you leave your father’s house with your bridal dress, you can only return in a burial robe. If you are not submissive, you find yourself alone with four children like me. And if you try to work to earn your own income to raise your children by yourself, they label you with many things,” Gülcan said.

“I have never spent the money I have received from that man for my own expenses. I have spent it all for my children. I struggled with people criticising me because I worked, as what he gave me was not enough. Now, without any shame, they say they will take back this too,” she said. 

For some women, getting alimony is a part of the struggle for gender equality, like Eser, an accountant, who was divorced when she was 35 years old. 

Eser said that, though she had economic freedom, she insisted child support be included in the divorce agreement as her child was only two years old at the time. She said that she saw it as her natural right as she took parental responsibility and since her former husband was earning enough. 

“Since my daughter was little, I was staying at home and as a result was not earning any income and of course I needed that alimony. But five months after our divorce, he started to apply to courts repeatedly to cancel my alimony, saying that I had a career and therefore have no right to alimony,” she said.