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.


NB v MI. Using English law to judge (mental) capacity to enter a Sharia marriage abroad.

NB v MI [2021] EWHC 224 (Fam) engages capacity to marriage. A marriage was formed on 1 June 2013 in Pakistan under sharia law between the parties. 18 years earlier, when she was 6, the wife was involved in a serious accident which left her among others badly neurologically damaged. She only slowly recovered from these injuries, to the extent that expert evidence suggested she does now, but did not have capacity in all the areas of life canvassed including to marry and enter sexual relations, at the time of her 2013 marriage.

Mostyn J considers the issues of whether partners understand the constituent elements of what it means to get married, starting with Durham v Durham [1885] 10 PD 80 and of course noting the changed approaches to the institute of marriage since. The core test then is to check whether at the time of marriage, the partners understood what it means to get married: financially, emotionally, sexually.

Mostyn J upon review of the evidence held that the wife lacked awareness of the difference between Islamic and English marriage; or the financial consequences depending on the contract; or her husband’s potential claims against her estate; or her husband’s proposed living arrangements. Yet that these say nothing at all about her capacity to marry [37]: ‘They may say quite a lot about her wisdom in getting married, but that is not the issue I have to decide.’ Although reference is made to KC & Anor v City of Westminster Social & Community Services Dept. & Anor [2008] EWCA Civ 198 I find the conflict of laws analysis could have been made clearer: is the overpowering engagement of English law a finding of confirmation of lex domicilii (the lex patriae of the wife is not mentioned but might be British), entirely disregarding a role for the lex loci celebrationis?

This is not my core area – I imagine others may have a more expert insight.


Declaration as to marital status: The High Court in MM v NA.

[2020] EWHC 93 (Fam) MM v NA is a great primer for family law conflict of laws.
Roberts J discussed formal validity (subject under English PIL to lex loci celebrationis, as is the case in many jurisdictions); ‘material” aka ‘essential’ validity aka capacity (in the common law subject to lex domiciliae: the domiciliary laws of the individual parties at the time of the marriage. Note that in the civil law this is often subject instead to lex patriae); finally: recognition, which here was complicated for Somaliland is not a State recognised by the UK.
Recognition was granted.

International marriages: MP v ML: What happens in Vegas, did not happen at all.

A succinct post on the French Supreme Court judgment 18-19665 MP v ML of 19 September last. Thank you Hélène Péroz for alerting us to the judgment. A French couple, married in 1995, file for divorce in 2012 when the husband discovers his wife has been married before, in Las Vegas, 1981. He requests his marriage be declared invalid on the grounds of bigamy. To settle the ‘divorce’ the courts therefore need to first settle the incidental question or Vorfrage of prior marriage, much like in the archetypal Vorfrage judgment of  Schwebel v Unger.

Under French law consent to marriage is covered by the lex patriae which for both partners in this case is French. The Supreme Court confirms the lower courts’ discretion to find as a matter of fact whether or not there was such consent, which in casu they had found there was not on the basis of the wife having presented the Vegas trip to her friends as not being of real consequence; no banns of marriage having been published, no effort having been undertaken by the partners to have their Vegas ‘wedding’ registered in France, no reference to the marriage having been made at the time of registration of the birth of their child, and both partners having entered into relationships after the ‘marriage’.


(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 1, Heading 1.4.


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