Disclaimer: The information on this page relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign legal counsel.
General Information: Syria is not a signatory to the Hague Abduction Convention. Due to the influence of Shari’a law and superior rights of fathers in Syria, abduction and retention cases involving Syria are extremely difficult to resolve. The U.S. Embassy has very limited ability to facilitate meaningful access or obtain the return of a child to the United States.
Islamic traditions and beliefs provide a religious foundation for the country's customs and practices impacting custody decisions (see Legal System and Civil Remedies below for more information).
The U.S. Department of State’s Office of American Citizen Services and Crisis Management (ACS) posts additional information on Syria at: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1035.html.
Legal System: The Syrian legal system is a blend of French, Ottoman, and Islamic jurisprudence as the main sources of legislation. Sharia’a courts have general jurisdiction over all Syrians without respect to religion and also over any Muslim, regardless of nationality. Sharia’a courts have special jurisdiction over Muslim Syrians in matters of personal status including marriage, dissolution, dowry, custody, maintenance, and trusts. The Code of Personal Status applied to Muslims by the Sharia’a courts does contain specific exemptions for Druze, Christians and Jews. The Madhhabi Courts exist for the Druze, and Ruhi Courts exist for Christians and Jews. There is one single Cadi Sharia’a, or Court of First Instance per district (except Damascus and Aleppo where there are three each). Each of the three types of courts has its own appellate courts. Final appeal for all the religious courts lies with the Family Section of the Court of Cassation in Damascus, the highest court of the regular system.
Retaining an Attorney: The U.S. Embassy in Syria posts a list of attorneys, including those who specialize in family law at http://damascus.usembassy.gov/attorney.html
In general, Syria does not offer free or reduced fee legal aid services. However, some non-governmental organizations will informally provide some legal counseling of options to women in domestic violence situations.
Citizenship & Passport Matters: Children born to fathers of Syrian descent acquire Syrian citizenship even if they are born outside of Syria and are also U.S. citizens. Citizenship is not transmitted through the mother.
Syria does not have passport two-parent signature rules for children younger than 18 years. A Syrian father can register the child at any time to obtain a Syrian passport, without notice to the other parent; however exit permits (as discussed below) control the child’s departure from the country.
Syria does not allow a child to be included on a parent’s passport. Syria ceased including multiple persons in a single passport in November 2002.
Syrians over the age of 18 years can travel between Syria and Lebanon with a Syrian identity card. Syrians between the ages of 14 and 18 years who have been issued a Syrian identity card can travel between Syria and Lebanon if they have their father’s written permission. Syrians under the age of 14 years who have not yet been issued a Syrian identity card can travel between Syria and Lebanon on the basis of the Syrian civil extract and the father’s written permission. All Syrians must use the same form of documentation to both enter and leave Lebanon. Travel to other destinations requires a passport.
Exit Permits: Any dual-national child who has stayed in Syria for more than three months and would like to depart Syria, must obtain a Syrian exit visa which requires the Syrian father's written permission, regardless of whether the child's passport is the same one he or she used to enter Syria, or whether it is a replacement passport issued by the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. Similar requirements may in certain situations be applied to an American citizen child believed to be Muslim or of Arab descent.
If the father is absent, the law delegates his authority over the child to a person regarded as the child's guardian, usually a male member of the father’s immediate family (e.g., the paternal grandfather), not to the mother.
Mediation: Only the Sharia’a courts deal with mediation of disputes.
Hague Abduction Convention: Syria is not a party to the Hague Abduction Convention.
Civil Remedies: Syrian Sharia’a courts foremost are interested in applying personal status laws, heavily based on Islamic traditions and culture. “Best interests of the child” is not the legal standard in these courts.
One important factor in resolving a child custody dispute in Syria may be whether the Syrian father has registered either the marriage or the child's birth with Syrian authorities, either in Syria or at a Syrian diplomatic mission abroad. Individuals interested in inquiring if a marriage or birth has been registered, if a child has been issued a Syrian passport, or for general information on Syrian family law, should obtain such information through a private attorney or through the Syrian Embassy in Washington D.C. See contact information below. If a Syrian citizen marries a U.S. citizen in a civil ceremony outside of Syria, Sharia’a courts would have jurisdiction over custody matters.
U.S. court orders usually cannot be enforced in Syria. If a Syrian parent chooses to remain in Syria with a child or to leave a child behind in Syria, the U.S. Embassy has extremely limited influence and cannot force either the other parent or the Syrian Government to return the child to the United States, regardless of what custody orders U.S. courts may issue. Nor is it possible in most cases to extradite a Syrian parent to the United States for parental child abduction or wrongful retention.
Syrian Sharia’a courts do place travel and other restrictions as conditions for maintaining custody of a child. On October 19, 2003, the Syrian legislative council approved the Presidential promulgation of law number 18 which extended the length of time that a mother retains custody over her children. The new law now permits a mother to keep custody of her female children up to fifteen years of age instead of eleven and for male children up to thirteen years of age instead of nine.
This applies to all mothers, regardless of nationality or religion or the children’s religion. However, the new law does not affect the father's near absolute right to block the travel of the children at any age (See Exit Permits). The father or his family still retain the right of legal or “psychological” guardianship, which means that he or his family can make decisions regarding the children's medical care, education, marriage, etc.
There is a link to the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Civil Affairs which includes limited general information concerning civil matters in English. The link is http://www.civilaffair-moi.gov.sy
Criminal Remedies: Parental child abduction is a criminal offense in Syria. However, the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Syria. Accordingly, extradition of a taking parent from Syria is not possible, even if there is an Interpol notice to arrest the taking parent. Authorities may take action based on a law enforcement request and an Interpol notice for either a non-Syrian child (yellow notice – missing person) or taking parent (usually red – criminal warrant). Action may be limited to detaining subject for questioning.
Visitation/Access Rights: Syrian personal status law does allow for the presumptive right of the birth mother to visit her children after custody has transferred to the father and vice versa. Consular personnel have been able to visit children with family cooperation.
The Sharia’a Court determines visitation/access rights according to Sharia’a law. In cases where authorized access is denied, the aggrieved parent can involve local police to take the child and offending parent before a court to effect visitation.
Embassy Contact Information: For specific questions regarding child custody and visitation in Syria, visit the Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic, 2215 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 232-6313 or check the Syrian Embassy's home page at http://www.syrianembassy.us. Or the Syrian Department of Civil Affairs website at http://www.civilaffair-moi.gov.sy.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 2, Al-Mansour St., Abu Roumaneh. The international mailing address is PO Box 29, Damascus,
Syrian Arab Republic. Mail may also be sent via the U.S. Postal Service to: American Embassy Damascus, Department of State,
Washington, DC 20521-6110. Telephone numbers are (963) (11) 3391-4444, fax number is (963)(11) 331-9678, e-mail: email@example.com. The government workweek in Syria is Sunday through Thursday; the private sector generally works Saturday through Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy is open Sunday through Thursday. Additional information may be found on the Embassy web site at http://damascus.usembassy.gov.
 Birth certificate.
 On Oct. 26, 2003, President Assad signed a decree raising the age at which children revert from their mother's custody to their father's custody from 9 to 13 years old for boys and from 11 to 15 years old for girls.