Divorce Iranian Style is a great documentary about three Iranian couples seeking a divorce. The camera crew sat next to the judge and he often chats with them. Those before the court also talk direct to the camera and are interviewed at home too.
Divorce is frowned upon and the judge is always urging them to reconcile.
Women can bargain for a divorce from their husband by agreeing to return their dowry or not demanding the outstanding amount be paid by their now unwanted husband. The dowries were large: $10,000 for a taxi driver in a poor country. They act as a bond for good behaviour and as insurance against a divorce. The unpaid portion of the dowry hangs over the head of a would be miscreant husband. The film makers found that:
“The women are assertive, demanding, and persistent to a degree that confounds stereotypes of oppression. They challenge the judge, badger the uncooperative clerk for misplaced files, chew out their husbands and their husbands’ families.”
UPDATE: the correct name for what the documentary makers called a dowry is the mahriyeh (bridal treasures): This sum is usually not paid to the bride at the time of the marriage.
The marriage contract provides that the mahriyeh (bridal treasures) is to be paid in the event of divorce or is to be deducted from the husband’s estate before the inheritance is divided according to religious law. The bride-price is a separate up-front payment to the family of the bride to cover the cost of the wedding.