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Is my Islamic marriage valid in the UK?

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If you have read the news reports about the recent divorce court ruling on the Sharia law marriage of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar then you may be questioning the validity of your Islamic or Sharia law marriage, whether or not your marriage was conducted overseas or celebrated in the UK.

Whilst London divorce solicitors recognise that a Sharia law marriage is valid to you it is also best to know if your Islamic marriage is legally valid under English law.

London divorce solicitors

If you need advice about the legal status of your marriage or if you are thinking about a separation from your husband or wife but aren’t sure if you are legally married and, if not, the financial consequences of your Islamic marriage then the London divorce team at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or click here.

Why does it matter if my Islamic marriage is legally valid in the UK?

You may think that it doesn’t matter what English divorce law says because in your eyes, and according to your friends and family, you are legally married to your husband or wife. However, if your Sharia law marriage is not legally recognised in the UK it can have a massive impact on you and your family. For example:

  • If you are not legally married then you won't need to start English divorce proceedings. That is because, under English law, you are treated as an unmarried couple
  • If you are an unmarried couple then you have far fewer financial claims on separation than a married couple
  • Although an unmarried partner can claim child support they cannot claim spousal maintenance
  • An unmarried partner can only claim a share of the family home if they have a property interest in the family home. Although a claim over the family home can be made if it is owned in your partner’s sole name you need to be able to prove that you have a property interest or a beneficial interest in the property. The property claims of an unmarried partner are far harder to pursue than the property claims of a husband or wife. That is because if your marriage is recognised in English law a family court judge doesn’t have to follow property law but can make an order after assessing the needs of your children and the needs of you and your spouse
  • An unmarried partner can't claim a share of their partner’s business or other assets unless they can show that they are legally entitled to the shares in a business. For example, if your partner had promised to transfer half his shares to you and you had evidence of that promise
  • An unmarried partner cannot make a claim against their partner’s pension on separation. If you are older then your partner’s pension may be the asset that is worth the most after the equity in the family home.

London divorce solicitors will tell you that in divorce proceedings and financial settlements, the family court normally starts from the premise that all your family wealth  (this can be joint assets or owned in your sole name or your husband or wife's sole name ) should be divided equally unless there is a good reason to depart from equality. However, if you are an unmarried couple all you will get if you separate is what you are entitled to under strict property laws instead of what you need or what is fair after the end of a long relationship or a relationship where you have had children together.

You may think that the law on unmarried couples is a bit unfair but unmarried couples know that they aren’t married whereas if you thought you were married , by virtue of your Sharia law marriage ceremony, but you aren’t in the eyes of English law then your predicament seems doubly unfair.

The law on the validity of Islamic marriage in England

Whether your Islamic marriage is treated in English law as valid and a legal marriage will depend on where you got married.

If you got married overseas and under the law in the country where you got married your Islamic wedding ceremony created a legal marriage then in England your Islamic marriage will be treated as a legal marriage. You will not need to participate in a civil ceremony of marriage in the UK or register the marriage. Although you married overseas you may be able to start divorce proceedings in England if you meet the divorce proceedings jurisdiction criteria at the time of your separation.

If you are unsure about the status of your overseas Islamic marriage it is best to seek advice now. Ig your overseas Islamic marriage isn’t legally recognised as an official marriage then you could participate in a civil ceremony in the UK.

If you celebrated an Islamic marriage in England then the position on whether your marriage is treated as a legal marriage under English law is more complicated. The position is:

  • If you celebrated an Islamic marriage but it is combined with or followed by a civil marriage then the marriage will be legally valid if it complied with the marriage  law requirements
  • If you only celebrated an Islamic marriage (that wasn’t carried out in a registered venue by someone authorised to conduct marriages) the court can decide if your marriage is valid or not. This creates uncertainty and London divorce solicitors say the situation is best avoided because court proceedings to determine if you are legally married under English law adds to the legal costs of separation. However, because of the difference in financial settlements awarded by the court to unmarried and married couples the cost of court proceedings to determine if the marriage is classed as legally valid under English law can be cost effective, depending on the extent of the family assets.

The case of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar

The most recent court case on the legal status of Islamic marriage in England is the marriage   of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar.

Mrs Akhtar sought a divorce from her husband, Mr Khan. He said that they weren’t legally married although the couple had celebrated a Nikah ceremony in a London restaurant carried out by an Imam in the presence of 150 guests. Mr Khan said the marriage wasn’t legal because whilst it was a legal marriage under Sharia law it did not meet the requirements of English marriage law and the couple didn’t have a civil ceremony of marriage.

The first court case decided that the marriage was a void marriage. This decision meant Mrs Akhtar could start financial proceedings as the wife of Mr Khan, and her financial claims were not limited to those of an unmarried partner. In February 2020, some two years after the first court case, the appeal court has decided that the couple were not legally married under English law.

The court of appeal decided that the Islamic marriage of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhter was not a legally recognised marriage in English law because the Sharia law wedding took place at a restaurant that was not registered as a wedding venue and a registrar was not present to carry out the ceremony. Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar then did not have a civil marriage ceremony.

In other family court cases judges have ruled that Islamic only marriages should be treated as valid under English law as even though a husband and wife had not complied with English marriage law requirements they had held themselves out as a married couple. In the case of Mr Khan and Mrs Akhtar, the court of appeal said that this wasn’t sufficient as the couple both knew that they needed to have a registered civil marriage ceremony to comply with English marriage law.

What should I do if I married under Islamic law?

If you married under Islamic marriage and you are worried that your marriage is not a legal marriage under English law then it is best to take legal advice. That way you will know where you stand legally. You can take legal advice about the status of your marriage even if you are not sure about whether or not you want to separate.

London divorce solicitors

For advice about the status of your Islamic marriage or information about divorce or financial settlements call the specialist divorce law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or complete the online enquiry form.

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