Sharia Law and Divorce

Sep 13, 2023   ·   4 minute read
Sharia Law and Divorce

When is a marriage a marriage? How do Sharia Law and Divorce work together? These are the questions that you may need to ask if you are considering separating from your husband or wife. Under English law, if a marriage is recognised as a legal marriage, a husband or wife can make financial claims against the other spouse’s assets. Whilst they might be able to make limited property claims as a cohabitee the financial claims that a spouse can make are wide sweeping.

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The Nikah, Sharia Law and Divorce 

Until a court decision a few years ago, if a Nikah ceremony was carried out in the UK the traditional Sharia law Nikah marriage wasn’t recognised in England and Wales as a legally valid marriage unless the couple also underwent a civil ceremony in a registry office. The second civil ceremony was classed as the legal marriage for official purposesFor most couples who celebrated a Nikah the thought that they were not considered legally married despite their traditional marriage ceremony, family celebration, and their recognition as a couple by family and friends, was repugnant.

The law isn’t straightforward. If a couple celebrates a Nikah in a country that recognises Sharia law (and therefore the Nikah is a legally valid marriage in the country where the Nikah took place) the Nikah is recognised as a legally valid marriage in England and Wales. With the court ruling, a Nikah that takes place in England may be sufficient for a husband and wife to be classed as married even though they have not participated in a civil ceremony.

Why is it important for a marriage to be legally valid in Sharia law and UK divorce law?

If you are not legally married under English law then on separation you do not need to start divorce proceedings because under English law your relationship isn’t recognised as a marriage. Under the law, you are treated as if you were a cohabiting couple. That means that you can’t:

  • Apply for spousal maintenance
  • Apply for a share of your partner’s pension
  • Apply for a share of your partner’s house unless you are a joint legal owner or have what is known as a beneficial interest in the property
  • Apply for a share in your partner’s other assets such as shares in a family business if the shares are all held in his or her name

As there is such a vast difference in how married and cohabiting couples are treated by the law on separation it is vital that couples know where they stand and whether their marriage is legally recognised or not.

Divorce Court ruling on Sharia law divorce and marriage

In a high court case, a Mrs Akhtar sought a divorce from her husband, Mr Khan. He opposed the divorce on the basis that they weren’t legally married having participated in a Nikah ceremony in a London restaurant conducted by an Imam with about 150 guests as witnesses to the celebration.

The judge ruled that the marriage was void. This decision allowed Mrs Akhtar to bring the financial claims of a spouse, claims that she wouldn’t have been able to pursue if the court had ruled that the Nikah was a non-marriage.

Does the legality of marriage ceremonies just affect those participating in Nikah weddings?

Many people have been caught out, believing that they are legally married only to find out many years later that their ceremony isn’t a legally recognised marriage, for example, being married at a venue that doesn’t hold a licence to perform weddings and not subsequently participating in a civil ceremony. This can also affect couples who are married at a traditional Jewish ceremony or those participating in a Wicca marriage.

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Prenuptial agreements, marriage and divorce

If a couple are wary of getting married in a legally valid ceremony of marriage because of the potential financial claims that arise from a legally valid marriage then the option of getting married with a prenuptial agreement in place might be the way forward. Prenuptial agreements are designed to stop or limit financial claims on divorce and can be a very sensible step if one or both parties to the marriage want to protect assets such as pre-owned property or shares in the family business.

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Contact us for help with divorce and Sharia law.