Posts Tagged divorce
Akhter v Khan. Nikah (Islamic Marriage) in the Court of Appeal, reversing earlier finding of nullity (as opposed to absence of marriage).
 EWCA Civ 122 deals upon appeal with the judgment of Williams J in  EWFC 54 Akhter v Khan which I reviewed at the time here – readers may want to read that post before considering current one. Of note is that applicable law is firmly English law, the judgment is not really one in the conflict of laws.
Williams J had declared the marriage at issue void under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the wife was granted a decree of nullity. This has extremely relevant consequences in terms of ‘matrimonial’ property, and maintenance obligations, including those vis-a-vis the children: non-marriage creates no separate legal rights while a decree of nullity entitles a party to apply for financial remedy orders under the 1973 Act.
Williams J’s judgment was reversed: at 106, following review of ECHR authority: ‘i) Whilst the Petitioner’s Article 8 right to respect to family life is undoubtedly engaged, the failure of the state to recognise the Nikah as a legal marriage is not in breach of those rights; ii) The right or otherwise to the grant of a decree of nullity does not in itself engage Article 8; the fact that at the time of the Nikah ceremony both parties knew that in order to contract a legal marriage they had to go through a civil ceremony, and intended to do so, does not undermine either of those conclusions or permit reliance on Article 8 as a means to allow a flexible interpretation of s. 11 of the 1973 Act.’
With respect to the impact of the children’s interests on this finding, at 111: ‘In our view the decision before the court cannot properly be described as an action concerning children and we cannot see how it can be said that the best interests of a child can turn what was neither a void nor valid marriage, into a void or valid marriage. In our judgment, the action in question relates solely to the status of the adult applicant.’
The Court of Appeal found therefore that the interests of children can play no part in a determination as to whether a ceremony is a non-qualifying ceremony or is a void marriage, and that neither ECHR or UNCHR can make a difference in this respect (at 119); whilst there is inevitably a tangential impact upon a child dependent upon the status of his or her parents’ relationship, an application brought before the court made in order to establish the status of that relationship cannot properly be regarded as an “action concerning children” (at 118).
In  EWHC 2776 (Fam) Ali v Rodrigues, claimant appreciated that the date of petition to divorce and date of and English respectively Scottish decrees are highly important to the husband’s immigration status. One way in which a former EEA family member can retain right of residence is if the marriage exceeded 3 years.
The husband was in Pakistan from 10th January 2016 to 18th February 2016. A certificate of entitlement to a divorce was issued on 21st March 2016 and decrees nisi and absolute were pronounced in the Romford (England) Family Court on, respectively, 12th April and 27th May 2016. That was the English decree. On 14th December 2016, the Home Office notified the husband that it was revoking his residence card on the basis that he was no longer a family member of an EEA national. The wife remarried in 2016, following the English decree and has sponsored her second husband’s application for leave to remain. The husband petitioned for divorce in Scotland on 27th September 2016, three years and five months after the date of the marriage and at least two years and three months from the date of the separation. On 6th November 2017, the Edinburgh Sherriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court pronounced the decree absolute, which is the Scottish decree.
If the English decree stands, the marriage will have lasted less than 3 years. If the Scottish decree stands, 3 years will have been exceeded. The husband essentially argues that the English decree is tainted by irregularity of service upon him. Lieven J held that the English decree should stand, on the basis that when it comes to failures related to service, it is appropriate to look at the nature of what went wrong and where the prejudice, if any, lies (at 36 ff). The wife took reasonable steps; and there are indications that the husband was trying to avoid service.
Given irregularities in service the English decree is voidable, but not void in the discretionary opinion of the court: the consequences of setting aside the English decree would more severe than that of the Scottish decree’s invalidity. If the English decree does not stand, the wife’s second marriage would have been made at a time when the first marriage persisted. That would be a very serious impact on her, her second husband and the child.
As Williams J notes at 5,  EWFC 54 Akhter v Khan is not about
‘whether an Islamic marriage ceremony (a Nikah) should be treated as creating a valid marriage in English law. In fact, the main issue as it has emerged is almost diametrically the opposite of that question; namely whether a Nikah marriage ceremony creates an invalid or void marriage in English law. To the average non-lawyer in 2018, it may appear an easy question to answer. Surely a marriage which is not a valid marriage is a void marriage and thus can be annulled? Regrettably it is not that simple.‘
The Guardian explain here why it is not that simple, and Ralf Michaels has analysis here. In essence (the remainder of this para is largely based on Ralf’s text), many muslims in the UK only perform Nikah and not a civil ceremony. The latter is firmly required under English law (indeed under the law of many European countries; where unlike in the English example, a religious ceremony must not even double up as a civil one, and the latter must always precede the religious one). Nikah hitherto had been considered a non-marriage which the law could ignore, because it did not even purport to comply with the requirements of English law. The High Court was unwilling to presume the lived marriage as valid.
Williams J however declared the marriage at issue void under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The wife was granted a decree of nullity. This has extremely relevant consequences in terms of ‘matrimonial’ property, and maintenance obligations, including those vis-a-vis the children. The Court’s analysis of human rights law is extensive, including of course with the ECHR gateway (via the Human Rights Act 1998) and the UNRC: the UN Convention on the Right of the Child. In this respect Williams J’s analysis is not unlike that of classic ordre public considerations: which are always case-specific and take into account the hardship caused to the individuals involved, were a foreign legal concept not recognised in the forum.
The Court has set an important precedent – but like all precedent of course there is case-specificity (the length of the lived marriage, the children,…
Of note is that applicable law in the case was firmly English law. Recognition of the marriage as such in the UAE did play a role in the judge’s assessment.
All in all an important case viz the discussion on multiculturality and family law in Europe.
In  EWHC 2932 (Fam) Radseresht v Radsheresht-Spain Cohen J is asked to recognise a divorce (and ensuing financial arrangements) granted under Dubai law. Postscript August 2018: see here for a recent Greek example, update 11 September 2019 and the mid-July 2019 court update of same.
I will not discuss the merits of the case (Justice Cohen does so proficiently, not just to my lay eye but I am assuming also the expert eye; he decides there was an intention to continue to stay married). Rather, the case is an interesting example to show those having to get used to conflict of laws. The High Court has no hesitation to apply Dubai law with all its in and outs (part of the judgment queries whether there were continued sexual relationships between the (ex?) spouses), in a court in London.
Of note is also that the High Court suggests that but for the very late raising of the issue, it could have queried whether the courts at Dubai had jurisdiction in the first place, habitual residence of the parties not having been at the UAE (the suggestion seems to have been made by counsel of the husband that the relevant criterion would have been nationality anyway).