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Is an Islamic faith marriage protected under English law?

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Charlotte Hurst, a solicitor in Harrison Drury’s divorce and family law team, outlines the position for Islamic faith marriages following a recent ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Islamic faith marriages, also known as nikah marriages, are common amongst couples of Islamic faith residing in England and Wales.

A recent ruling by the Court of Appeal has made it clear that unless civil proceedings take place in addition to the nikah ceremony, there are no protections available under English law. The ruling has been made following a High Court case in 2018 which involved a woman filing for divorce from her husband after only undergoing a nikah ceremony.

The Judge ruled that the couple’s nikah ceremony, which was not followed up with a civil ceremony, constituted a ‘void’ marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The wife was therefore entitled to a decree of nullity in accordance with English law.

This approach was taken because, at the time of the nikah ceremony, the couple had the intention to undertake a civil ceremony, which the husband then refused. The High Court ruled that the marriage had been entered into with a disregard for certain formalities.

The Court of Appeal has subsequently overturned the decision, stating that upholding it would diminish the formalities necessary for a marriage. The Court of Appeal also ruled that the High Court could not hold the couple’s marriage to be ‘void’ because it never legally existed under English law in the first place.

Couples of Islamic faith should therefore ensure that they have a civil ceremony in addition to a nikah ceremony, in order to be deemed married under the provisions of English law.

If you require any further advice regarding faith marriages and the English law or to seek specialist advice from Harrison Drury’s family law team, please contact Charlotte Hurst on 01772 258321.


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