Boughajdim v Hayoukane. A classic qualification exercise on formal and essential (substantive) validity of marriage.

Boughajdim v Hayoukane [2022] EWHC 2673 (Fam) is a good case to illustrate qualification as an essential part of the private international law exercise. I had the case as one of the many open windows on my desktop. Despite my tardiness in reporting, I still do so, seeing as it is exam season and students are likely to start grapling with the course materials.

Core question is whether the Petitioner’s (the wife) divorce petition should be allowed to proceed in E&W, based on a marriage that has been recognised by the Moroccans court and registered in Morocco pursuant to legislation designed to provide retrospective recognition of marriage in that jurisdiction. The retrospective element is the result of the (alleged) spouses, of which the husband has dual Moroccan-UK citisenship, becoming aware that the absence of a marriage certificate was precluding an application for British Citizenship for one of their children.

The wife argues that the lex loci celebrationis in this case is Morocco, that the formal validity of the marriage falls to be determined by reference to the local form under Moroccan law and that this court is dealing with a valid foreign marriage, acknowledged as such by a foreign court and affirmed following failed proceedings by the husband for perjury and on appeal. By contrast, the husband contends that a proper analysis of the lex loci celebrationis means that the formal validity of the marriage falls to be determined by reference to the domestic Marriage Acts. In this context, he submits that the Moroccan marriage cannot be recognised as valid in E&W either as to form or as to capacity, the husband submitting in respect of the latter that the law governing questions of capacity is, in any event, the law of the husband’s domicile, under which law the husband did not validly consent to the marriage. Finally, the husband argues, in any event, that in the context of the special character of marriage there are cogent reasons for refusing to recognise the Moroccan marriage on the ground of public policy.

There is a convoluted procedural background to the case which this post does not engage with, for it is not relevant to the outcome of current judgment. (This also includes nb a number of res judicata elements, held [98], arising out of concurrent Moroccan proceedings.  Clearly, whether or nor there was a valid marriage at all is of relevance for all sorts of reasons, including financial ones.

[85] English law [like much of the world, GAVC] distinguishes between the form of the marriage (formal validity), which is governed by the lex loci celebrationis and the questions of capacity to marry to marry (essential validity, aka material or substantive validity). It is well settled that in English PIL the question of the capacity to marry is determined by the law of the party’s antenuptial domicile (Dicey Rule 75; note the contrast with continental Europe which tends to opt for lex patriae). Note however that what part of the validity question is a formal one and what part a substantive one, is not unequivocally clear. In E&W, there is no authority that conclusively answers the question of which system of law will govern the question of consent to marriage, i.e. whether consent is a matter of form governed by the lex loci celebrationis or a matter of capacity governed by the law of domicile.[86]

MacDonald J holds [90]

that the lex loci celebrationis in this case is the Kingdom of Morocco. I am further satisfied, on the facts as I have decided them, that the parties complied with the local form in the lex loci celebrationis sufficient for the court to be satisfied that it is dealing with a valid marriage having regard to the principle of locus regit actum. Further, I am satisfied that the husband has not demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court in this case that grounds exist for refusing to recognise the Moroccan marriage on the basis of public policy. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the wife’s petition can proceed.

A difficultly is [100] that neither party contends for a marriage ceremony, or any other celebratory event, on an ascertainable date or at an ascertainable place giving rise to a marriage. The wife relies on the operation of a retrospective statute in a foreign jurisdiction as having constituted a valid marriage. There was no ‘marriage ceremony or other similar celebration’: then wat is the locus celebrationis? [105] The existence of a course of conduct by which some but not all of the legal steps necessary to conclude a marriage in a jurisdiction in which a ceremony is not required might, depending on the facts of the case, also assist in identifying whether there is a lex loci celebrationis and its location in a case concerning the operation of retrospective marriage legislation. Here, the judge decides that in 2000, on the balance of probabilities, the husband proposed marriage to the wife in Morocco, that there was an engagement party held, that there was a dowry agreed and paid and that the wife and husband considered themselves to be engaged and were to be married.

[114] ff the judge holds Moroccan formal procedure (including an element of service) following the retrospective Act, was properly complied with.

[139] ff and much more briefly, consent by both parties is established.

Finally [148] the ordre public exception looks at the consequences in England and Wales of recognising the decision of a foreign court that a marriage subsists as the result of retrospective legislation in respect of a British Citizen domiciled in E&W. [149] The Judge holds that the marriage to which the husband now objects arose by operation of law as the result of legal proceedings in respect of which, as the court has found, he was aware, in which he was represented, in which he had the opportunity to make representations and in which he did make, albeit cursory, representations objecting to the relief sought by the wife.

In conclusion, an earlier pronounced stay on the divorce petition was lifted.

A good case to illustrate qualification and its consequences.


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