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The Court of Appeal has ruled that Islamic faith marriages are invalid under English law.
The judgement overturns an earlier high court ruling that an Islamic marriage, known as a nikah, did fall within English matrimonial law.
The appeal court’s decision last week means spouses have no redress to the courts for a division of matrimonial assets, such as the family home and spouse’s pension, in the event of marriage breakdown.
Many couples believe that if they undergo a nikah ceremony they are lawfully married, but this is only the case if they also have a civil ceremony. And, according to an 2017 survey, while nearly all married Muslim women in the UK had taken part in a nikah, only around one third had had a separate civil ceremony.
Charles Hale QC, of the family law firm 4PB, told The Guardian newspaper: “This [ruling] means that many have absolutely no rights at the end of what they believe to be their ‘marriage’. No rights to assets in the husband’s sole name, and no rights to maintenance.”
He added: “The law in these cases is not keeping up with society. These vulnerable women need better protection than the law currently provides.”
Daniel Jones, of law firm BLM, commented that the decision risked leaving many Muslim women in the UK in “legal limbo”, forced to approach sharia councils to pursue Islamic divorce. “This often involves lengthy delays and does not afford women the same financial protections as would be granted in their ceremonies were recognised as a marriage under English law. This matter is on fundamental importance to Muslim women across the UK… leaving many women at great financial risk in unhappy relationships.”