Fake divorces on rise in Turkey to receive state benefits

Since a 2008 reform that toughened punishments for fake divorces carried out for the purpose of accessing social security benefits, the Social Security Institution (SGK) has claimed that around 22,000 couples continue to live together after divorcing and that the practice is on the rise, according to media reports.

The issue of fake divorces is one of the major problems faced by Turkey’s social security system. Acting on tip-offs to the SGK’s information line, ALO 170, the institution has been investigating possible fake divorces by sending officials on surprise visits to the households of those suspected of benefits fraud.

According to the Habertürk daily, the SGK has received more than 7,000 tip-offs in İzmir and around 3,000 of them have been examined in the past couple of years. The SGK claims to have discovered that 1,700 couples in İzmir continue to live together even though they are officially divorced on paper. The daily also claimed that the number exceeds 22,000 nationwide.

If a parent who receives a pension from the SGK dies, the pension is automatically transferred to the parent’s unmarried daughters, which is known as an “orphan pension.” In order to receive the pension of a deceased parent, some married women choose to divorce their spouses on paper while continuing to live as a couple in practice. Following the official declaration of divorce, the woman is entitled to receive the pension from the SGK.

A new office of supervisors has been established to fight fake divorces and is tasked with raiding the houses of couples suspected of cheating the system. Once the SGK has discovered a suspected fake divorce, the issue is referred to the courts after the SGK files a lawsuit against the suspects. The penalty for those found guilty was trivial in the past but the perpetrators now face sterner punishments for their actions.

After the discovery of a fake divorce, the pension payments are stopped and the perpetrators made to pay back the money they received with interest. In one case, a local court issued a prison sentence and an additional fine to the guilty parties.