Arranged marriages remain the norm in several communities in the U.S., affecting tens of thousands of women. And divorce often seems impossible to those women.
In addition to the difficulties every person faces in a divorce, a woman in an arranged marriage faces unique challenges – especially if she wants to leave her community as well as her marriage:
• She typically has no access to money, to pay a lawyer or to move to a new home.
• She usually does not understand the American legal system; even the process of finding a lawyer is daunting.
• She might be constrained by customs or religious laws that limit women’s divorce options.
• She probably has been shunned by her family and friends.
• She might face an adversary in family court of not only her husband but an entire community of people – including her relatives and former friends — who are raising money for him.
• She likely is accustomed to wearing a head covering and standing quietly in the women’s section, not to fighting for justice for herself.
• She probably has been married since she was a teenager and cannot imagine a different life for herself.
• She usually does not know a woman who has successfully navigated the family-court system and left an arranged marriage, who can advise and support her.
• She might be grappling with threats from leaders of her community that they will kidnap her children or testify in court that she is an unfit mother.
• She has good reason to fear how a judge deciding custody will view her life choices.
Unchained At Last is the only nonprofit in the U.S. devoted to this problem. The organization was founded by a woman who overcame the challenges described above and escaped her abusive arranged marriage, and it is directed by women who left or fought to avoid their own arranged marriages.
Unchained At Last runs four programs to help women leave arranged marriages and to prevent them from becoming trapped in such marriages:
• Legal Assistance Program
• Social Services Program
• Mentoring Program
• Advocacy and Awareness Program