A Wenatchee, WA native living and working in Saudi Arabia is now struggling with the courts and her ex-husband for permanent custody of their 4-year-old Saudi-born daughter.
For 31-year-old Bethany Vierra, losing custody of her daughter, Zaina, would likely also mean losing her Saudi residency, and she could be forced to leave the country without her daughter.
"She's right now facing losing her daughter," said Bethany's father, Myron Vierra, who – along with Bethany's mother Kathi – is appealing to the male-dominated Saudi government for justice.
"If she leaves, she'll never see that child again," Vierra said.
Bethany went to Saudi Arabia in 2011 to teach at a women's school, and earn her doctorate on U.S. Arab relations. She also opened her own business, a yoga studio popular with U.S. expats. In 2013, she married a Saudi man, and two years later, Zaina was born. For years, Bethany and Zaina were legally permitted by her husband and the government to travel to the U.S. to visit their family.
The Vierras say the trouble began when Bethany's husband became abusive and wrote his own divorce documents.
"In Saudi Arabia, if a man wants to divorce his wife, all he has to do is basically write out a letter and then it's done," said Myron, who added that Bethany's husband originally agreed to allow Zaina to leave the country with her mother.
"Then they went to court together and he simply swore on the Quran that the document never existed."
Bethany's ex-husband, according to Saudi law, also controlled Bethany's residency status, and thereby had the authority to deny her access to bank accounts and travel. But after a New York Times article featured Bethany's struggles, the Saudi government, recognizing she was a mother to a Saudi citizen, restored her residency, as long as she has custody of her child.
Myron said Bethany's ex-husband seems determined to take his daughter and then give her to his relatives. "His complaint is she's got a business and she works regular hours," said Myron. "So he believes she can't be a good mom. Now he's hammering away in courts of law that is a very male dominated system."
"We just hope the Saudi government sees how dangerous this is to families," said Bethany's mother, Kathi Vierra.
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