An Islamic couple who marked their wedding with a traditional ‘nikah’ ceremony but without a civil service were never legally married, the Court of Appeal has decided in a landmark case.
It ruled the marriage was ‘invalid’ under English law as the ‘nikah’ wedding was a ‘non-qualifying ceremony’ with no legal effect.
This was because, said the court, it was not performed in a building registered for weddings, no certificates had been issued and no registrar was present.
‘Not legally married’
Overturning a 2018 High Court decision that the ‘nikah’ ceremony falls within marriage law, this move has huge implications for thousands of Muslims in England and Wales.
The ruling, in effect, means that couples who marry with only a ‘nikah’ ceremony to mark the occasion, and don’t go through an additional civil ceremony, do not count as legally married and can therefore not divorce.
In many cases, this leaves the parties in a vulnerable financial position if the relationship breaks down without redress to the courts for a division of the matrimonial assets, such as the family home or a spouse’s pension.
Nasreen Akhter and Mohammed Shabaz Kahn married in London in 1998 at a traditional Islamic ‘nikah’ ceremony in the presence of an imam and around 150 guests.
The couple, who went on to have four children, always intended to follow it up with a civil ceremony but never did so.
They separated in 2016 and Mr Khan tried to block his wife’s divorce petition on the basis they had never been legally married in the first place.
Nasreen Akhter argued their Islamic faith marriage was legal, as was her application for a divorce, and that she was entitled to the same legal protection and settlement offered in the UK to legally married couples.
Initially, the High Court judge agreed with her ruling the marriage did indeed come under the scope of the 1972 Matrimonial Causes Act. This decision has now been reversed by the Court of Appeal.
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