The Court of Appeal, in the case of Akhter v Khan  EWCA Civ 122, has ruled that Islamic faith marriages are considered to be ‘non marriages’ according to the law of England and Wales.
Couples who have undergone Nikah ceremonies in the UK, who have not later had a civil ceremony, will find that their marriage is not legally recognised by the Court upon separation.
A Channel 4 documentary poll in 2017 found that two thirds of Nikah marriages in the UK were not followed up with a civil ceremony, much like that of Nasreen Akhter and Mohammed Shabaz Khan. In this instance, despite the ceremony being witnessed by over 150 guests before an Imam and their intention to register the marriage in a civil ceremony made clear, the Court of Appeal cemented the requirements for formal registration of the marriage, in order that it may be considered legal.
This means that Mrs Akhter and a number of women will find that on separation, they have no right to financial support in the form of maintenance and no right to bring any claims against the other’s assets under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Such assets often consist of the family home and pension funds that during the ‘marriage’ were intended to be shared.
Whilst there may be recourse to bring a claim under other statutes, such as the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 or Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, such claims are not always straight forward. The only other alternative is for Muslim women to bring their claims to the Sharia courts, which have been openly criticised in the media for causing harm to women and children, sometimes leaving them with no financial support on divorce.
There is an argument that the law is outdated and needs reform. It is not expected that any changes to this issue will be brought about by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill presently before Parliament, which will reform the law on Divorce as we know it. The message of Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, an organisation campaigning on this issue, is that this is not about recognising religious marriages but is rather about the ‘state guaranteeing equality to all before the law’.
The message to Muslim couples must be therefore that a civil ceremony is a necessity following a Nikah to preserve the rights of both parties on separation.
Farleys have a specialist divorce team, who are able to provide sound legal advice on separation. Contact us on 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry through our online contact form.