Today, (13 November 2019) the case of Akhter-v-Khan went before the Court of Appeal to challenge a ruling that a couple’s Islamic marriage fell within the scope of English law, namely the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 because it bore the hallmarks of marriage.
The decision as to whether this Islamic marriage is considered to be within the scope of English law will have far-reaching ramifications for Muslim couples residing in Britain.
“Many of the headlines reported in the press for the Akhter-v-Khan case have been inaccurate and confusing.
This case involved a 20-year marriage and the court made the decision on the basis of the specific facts of this case.
The Islamic marriage was considered to be a valid marriage in the UAE where Sharia law is engrained within the law of that country. Importantly the marriage wasn’t conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act 1949.
This decision has been criticised heavily by various legal professionals who have felt it was based on ‘emotional’ reasons to try and provide recourse to the wife within this matter, rather than a legal one.”
Islamic marriage and English law – ultimately, the law of the land must apply. Otherwise, where do we draw the line?
“Can we give legal recognition to couples to marry in the future by complying with religious traditions, whatever they maybe? And if it doesn’t comply with the Marriage Act 1949, can we provide them with the ability to pursue a financial claim from a valid/void ‘marriage’?
Compliance with the law is critical. The jurisprudence of this country cannot be stretched to include a reference to every celebration or act considered to be a ‘legal’ and ‘valid’ form of marriage. It is compliance with the law which must be the primary focus, not that which one ‘thought’ to be compliant.
Increasingly, couples are deciding not to marry and as such, cohabitation rates are increasing. If the parties don’t want to comply with the requirements of the law and not marry, can the existence of marriage and financial claims arising from such ‘void’ marriages be forced upon them?”
“I have worked with a number of clients who find that they are Islamically married but do not have the protection of the Family Courts upon divorce because they have never undertaken a civil marriage.
These women are the most vulnerable in society and are often completely ignorant of the difference.
If there are children involved this can cause significant financial issues in terms of housing and my clients are often in shock as to the limitation of their legal rights.
Overturning the judgment will continue to leave these women in vulnerable positions without recourse to the financial provisions available under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and hence unable to meet their needs”
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