Akhter v. Khan (England and Wales Family Court, 2018): State Recognition of Islamic Marriage

A UK family court considered whether and how UK law recognizes a marriage conducted according to Islamic law that had not been accompanied by a civil law marriage. The husband contended that the couple was never married, and the wife—petitioning for divorce—insisted that they were. The two had signed an Islamic marriage contract (nikāḥ) accompanied by a ceremony abroad, lived together and had children together, and held themselves out as married for years both abroad and in the UK. The court concluded that, on those facts and considering the UK laws on marriage—as interpreted, for the first time, through the Human Rights Act 1998 and the best interests of the child—that the marriage was “void” or “voidable.” This determination meant that the couple was not validly married under UK law but that their union was also not considered a non-marriage. Instead, as a void marriage, their union was something akin to what Islamic law would label a “defective marriage.” The court had essentially concluded that, although a marriage was not properly concluded or registered according to the law, the steps taken toward one would in some measure be recognized by the law and entitle the wife to certain legal protections upon dissolution of the union. In this case, this meant that the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity from the court, and that the wife could take advantage of certain UK civil law remedies for maintenance and child custody upon dissolution.

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