Multinational marriage declared void by High Court

Family Law|News|December 10th 2013

The High Court has ruled in favour a man who claimed his marriage was void and his ex-partner was therefore not entitled to maintenance.

Assad v Kurter concerned a Turkish man and his Syrian partner, both living in England. The man moved to England in 1990, but met the woman during a visit to Syria in 2006. The following August, they took part in a religious wedding ceremony at a church belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church, of which they were both members. They exchanged rings and signed a marriage register, and were accompanied by “a large number of guests”.

However the marriage was never formally registered with the Syrian authorities and no permission was sought from them either. This was required under Syrian law as the man was not a Syrian. The woman therefore remained officially unmarried within the country.

Later the couple  travelled to Turkey and from there to the UK. The woman travelled using a spousal visa obtained from the British Embassy in Istanbul. In England she went to work in the man’s café. But the relationship ran into problems and the couple separated in 2009.

She obtained a religious divorce and received a certificate certifying this. However, when the woman applied for a civil divorce, her former partner insisted that the wedding had been “no more than a blessing” and not a valid marriage. Therefore she was was not entitled to financial support under English law, he claimed.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Moylan said the courts would need to decide whether the marriage was valid according to Syrian law, as the ceremony took place in that country. and his judgement would need to find equivalents in English law:

“…the English court must determine the effect of the foreign law by reference to English law concepts.”

The judge concluded that both parties knew they were undergoing a marriage ceremony that could be formally registered and made valid. It was not, therefore, a “non-marriage” under English law, but instead, he ruled, a “void” one.

The judge said:

“…as a legal marriage was not effected, there is no marriage.”

He added:

“In my judgment it is a marriage which is not valid as a result of a failure to comply with certain of the required formalities and as such is properly described in English law terms as a void marriage.”

Under section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, a marriage is void under English law if:

“…the parties have intermarried in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage.

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  1. Andrew says:

    My understanding is that the same financial remedies can follow a decree of nullity as a decree of divorce. The man in this case was hoping for a finding that this had been a non-marriage, as in some of the cases involving wholly unofficial Islamic or Hindu ceremonies in England – which would have let him off the financial hook altogether.

  2. Ayeesha says:

    In Asaad, the ‘wife’ was seeking a decree of divorce or in the alternative a decree of nullity. The ‘husband’ opposed both stating that there was no marriage in the first place. The wife succeeded on her secondary case (for a nullity). The significance of the dispute is that the wife can now go on to claim financial remedies. If the husband had won then she would be entitled to nothing.

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