EU law does not apply to Sharia and other religious divorces conducted privately, Justices have ruled.
The case concerned a former couple with dual German and Syrian nationality. They married in the Syrian city of Homs in 1999, later moved to Germany, and then separated some years ago. In 2013, while visiting Syria, the husband divorced his wife by sending a representative to a Sharia court in the troubled Middle Eastern country who made the necessary verbal declarations under Islamic law. According to reports, the Syrian authorities were not involved, raising the question of whether or not the divorce was valid under Syrian law.
The wife, however, did acknowledge the divorce and receipt of the mandated payments from him. She declared that he was now from his marital obligations to her.
Back in Germany, the former husband applied to have the divorce recognised under German law. The court did so, citing a piece of EU legislation commonly called Rome III but more formally termed the Applicable Divorce Law Regulation. As the name suggests, Rome III is concerned with which divorce law applies when couples from different member states separate.
Although the UK is not a signatory to Rome III, it will affect UK nationals if they apply for divorce from a spouse who is a citizen of a participating country.
Despite her earlier acknowledgements, the former wife contested the ruling and the case was there referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a preliminary ruling on key issues. Justices there concluded that Rome III does not in fact apply to “private divorces” (e.g. those conducted without state authorisation, such as those in Sharia courts) and that EU member states must each decide for themselves whether to legally recognise these.
Therefore, the German courts would, they said, have to make their own decision on whether or not to recognise the couple’s Sharia divorce.
The full ruling is available here.
Photo of the European Union flag by Matt May via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence