A high court judge has ruled that English matrimonial law applies to an Islamic marriage after the husband tried to argue that the couple were only married under Sharia law. Mohammed Shabaz Khan attempted to block his wife, Nasreen Akhter’s divorce petition saying that they were not married under English law.

The couple were married in an Islamic religious ceremony called a Nikah in 1998, which was conducted by an imam in public and bore all the hallmarks of a marriage. The judge heard that the couple had agreed that they would register their marriage with a civil ceremony after the Nikah ceremony, however the husband later refused to arrange the civil ceremony, despite repeated requests to do so by the wife.

The judge concluded that Mrs Akhter was entitled to a decree of nullity under section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 because the marriage was “entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage” and is therefore void.

Previous rulings on Nikah marriages have concluded that they were not legally binding and therefore the spouse seeking a divorce had no legal right to make financial claims for themselves in relation to the division of matrimonial assets, such as the family home. Following this ruling, Mrs Akhter is able to bring financial remedy proceedings against her husband.

As many as two thirds of Muslim couples who have had a Nikah ceremony have not gone on to also register their marriage in the UK with a civil ceremony. This ruling could therefore have major implications for many Muslims in the UK whose marriage may not previously have been treated as legal under English law.

The Family team at Myerson regularly advise clients on the validity of marriage and act for clients in relation to financial claims brought as a result of an overseas divorce. If you require advice, please call us on 0161 941 4000 and ask for our Family law department or email us at lawyers@myerson.co.uk.

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