Author: Ron Kauffman

Enforceability of Islamic Prenuptial Agreement

The Texas Supreme Court recently had to decide whether an Islamic prenuptial agreement is enforceable. Especially interesting is whether the agreement’s, Arbitration by Fiqh Panel Clause, can be enforced in a family law case involving children.

Texas Islamic Agreement

‘All My Exes Live In Texas’

The Wife, Ayad, and her Husband, Latif married in 2008. In connection with their marriage, they signed an “Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement”.

In the Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement, they said: “Belief that Islam . . . is binding on them in all spheres of life, and that any conflict which may arise between the husband and the wife will be resolved according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic Law in a Muslim court, or in its absence by a Fiqh Panel.”

The three-person Figh Panel will be selected and provides that the panel “will not represent the parties in conflict, but rather, serve as impartial arbitrators and judges, guided by Islamic Law and its principles.” The majority decision of the Fiqh Panel will be binding and final.

Although the Wife’s signature appears on the Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement, she alleges that she did not become aware of its contents—or even see it—until she and her husband began experiencing marital difficulties in 2020.

The Wife argues she was “defrauded” into signing a prenup that violated her fundamental rights. In January 2021, she filed for divorce and sought to be appointed joint managing conservator of the couple’s six-year-old son.

Wife argued the term “Islamic Law” was too indefinite; the Agreement was void because it violated public policy; Husband’s previous breaches of the Agreement had excused Ayad from performing; and the Agreement was unconscionable.

The trial court held a hearing on Husband’s motion to enforce, and concluded it would order the parties to arbitrate under the Agreement. The court held a second hearing in which it gave each party twenty minutes to address solely whether the Agreement was entered into voluntarily.

The trial court ruled it had no discretion under the Texas General Arbitration Act but to enforce the Agreement and refer the parties to arbitration per the terms of their Agreement, but would review the award to determine if it violated constitutional rights or public policy, and would hold a hearing to determine whether the award was in the best interest of the child.

The Wife sought review in the Supreme Court of Texas.

Florida and Islamic Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about religious prenuptial agreements, such as the Mahr (Islamic Prenuptial Agreement) before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrities. Anyone who brings personal or business assets into their marriage can benefit from a prenuptial agreement.

Prenups are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, buying properties, and accumulating mountains of debt. Many religions, especially Islam, have terms couples want to be governed by in the event of divorce.

But just having a prenup is not enough. Prenups are frequently challenged in court. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable.

Florida also adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act. The UPAA requires that all premarital agreements be in writing and signed by both parties. It is enforceable without consideration other than the marriage itself.

Because prenuptial agreements may be challenged in court, Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the constitutionality of prenups, whether they violate Florida law or Florida public policy.

‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’

The Supreme Court of Texas agreed with the Wife that the family court was required to hear and determine her challenges to the Agreement’s validity and enforceability before referring the parties to arbitration.

The Family Code, which provides that a trial court “may” refer suits for dissolution of marriage to either binding or nonbinding arbitration based on the parties’ written agreement is subject to certain limits.

Before arbitration, if a party to a divorce asserts that the agreement to arbitrate is not valid or enforceable,” then the court may order arbitration only if it determines that the agreement is valid and enforceable.

Here, the court incorrectly concluded it “must refer parties to arbitration when it is contracted by the parties,” and that it had “no discretion but to enforce the Agreement.” Since the trial court did not resolve the Wife’s challenges in its order compelling arbitration, and incorrectly concluded it could not, the trial court erred.

The Texas Supreme Court opinion is here.

Hurricane Ian

As we prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, you are advised that our law office, all Miami-Dade County clerk offices, and all Miami-Dade County courthouses will be closed on Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th. We will be working remotely to help address all of your family law concerns. Reach out to us by phone or email. We’re prepared to support you.

Hurricane Ian

Stay safe. For information regarding Hurricane Ian click here.

Equitable Distribution of Boudoir Photos in Divorce

How a family court decides the equitable distribution of boudoir photos, complete with intimate inscriptions and nude photographs, is never easy. A Utah family court recently ordered a woman to hand over her most intimate photographs to her ex-husband and a third-party photographer he chose.

Equitable distribution Boudoir

‘Utah: Life Elevated’

A former wife was married for 25 years and together for 27. As expected, the process of splitting their assets would be complex in a long marriage. The issue became so complex, negotiations failed and a one-day bench trial had to be held.

After the trial, the family judge ordered the former wife to surrender her most intimate photographs of herself to a third-party photographer for editing, and then ordered that the edited photos be given to her ex-husband for his viewing pleasure.

“You don’t know where to turn because you don’t know the law and you have not only your ex-husband who you were married to for years (thinking) that forcing you to distribute basically porn is OK … you have his attorney that also thinks that’s OK. And then you bring it in front of a judge, and he thinks it’s OK.”

The family court’s finding of facts dated July 7th — the day the divorce was finalized — found that the nude photos were given as gifts to the former husband earlier in their marriage, and therefore he “has the right to retain them and the memories they provide.”

The court also found the former wife has a right for her intimate photos to not be in her ex-husband’s possession. So how did the family judge decide the steamy issue? The judge ordered her to turn the images over to the original photographer for editing.

That person is then to do whatever it takes to modify the pages of the pictures so that any photographs of the former wife in lingerie or that sort of thing or even without clothing are obscured and taken out, but the (photo inscriptions) are maintained for the memory’s sake.

Florida Equitable Distribution

I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

In Florida, nonmarital assets which are not divided include things such as assets acquired before the marriage; assets you acquired separately by non-interspousal gift, and assets excluded as marital in a valid written agreement.

Conversely, marital assets which are subject to division, generally include things like assets and liabilities acquired during the marriage, the enhancement in value of some nonmarital assets – and for anyone giving their spouse a gift of sensual boudoir photographs – interspousal gifts during the marriage.

Wisdom of Solomon

Despite the ruling, the original photographer refused to edit the images over a concern about ethics and legal repercussions to her photography business. Being a boudoir photographer, her clients trust her with their images and privacy, and the photographer took that responsibility seriously.

The judge then made a second ruling, and ordered the former wife to give the images to a different photographer for editing. She was also ordered to retain the original photos for 90-days before destroying them, in case her ex-husband wasn’t satisfied with the edits.

The former wife said her ex-husband isn’t happy with the edited photos, though she feels that she has complied with the court’s order, and she feels that her ex-husband’s demand for the photos was an attempt to control and hurt her.

“If all he was truly interested in was the inscriptions, he got those. I’ve complied with the court’s order, even though I believe strongly that (the) order (is) violating on many levels and has affected my emotional and mental health. I can’t imagine doing this to someone else.”

The ex-husband said his former wife’s description of the situation is her perspective. This is not my perspective nor the perspective of an impartial judge. It appears that she has intentionally misrepresented and sensationalized several aspects of a fair proceeding to manipulate the opinions of others for attention and validation of victimhood.

One attorney was quoted as saying equitable distribution in a divorce always involves a balancing of interests but the judge here has just made a mistake in the balancing of interests and has tipped things much too far in one direction.

The Salt Lake Tribune article is here.

International Child Abduction Action Report

Every year international child abduction cases are reported to the Congress by the U.S. Department of State. These annual Action Reports show Congress the actions taken against countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance. So, which countries in our hemisphere were noncompliant?

International Abduction Action Report

2022 Action Report

Under the Hague Convention, the State Department is tasked as our Central Authority. The Central Authority facilitates implementation and operation of the Hague Convention on child abduction in the U.S.

After passage of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the State Department was later assigned the duty of submitting annual Action Reports on International Child Abduction to Congress on the specific actions taken in response to countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

The 2022 Annual Report is an overview of the Department’s efforts to support the resolution of international parental child abduction cases.

The Department also reports on their work with foreign governments and authorities to promote procedures to encourage the prompt resolution of existing international abduction cases. The aim is that, in general, international custody disputes should be resolved in the competent court of the country of the child’s habitual residence.

Countries which don’t meet their Convention obligations, or fail to work with the U.S. to resolve child abduction cases, can face “appropriate actions.”

Florida International Child Abduction

I’ve written and spoken about international child abduction cases under the Hague Convention before. The Hague Convention seeks to deter child abductions by a parent by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

The Hague Convention is implemented in the United States through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act. Then in 2014, the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act was signed into law.

Even if a country is a signatory country and treaty partners with the U.S., returning a wrongfully retained or abducted child may still be complicated because some signatory countries are not complying with the Convention. That is where the State Department’s Action Report comes in.

ICAPRA increases the State Department’s annual reporting requirements. Each year, the Department not only submits an Annual Report on International Child Abduction to Congress, it submits another report on the actions taken towards countries determined to have been engaged in a pattern of noncompliance.

A Carnival of Noncompliance

The State Department Action Report includes both countries where there is a treaty relationship with the United States under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, and countries where no treaty relationship exists.

The 2022 Action Report reviews the results of cases which were resolved the previous year. Some of the countries in our hemisphere which failed to regularly implement and comply with the Hague Convention include Argentina, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil.

Brazil has had the Convention in force with the U.S. since 2003. Brazil has also demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance for years. Complaints have criticized its judicial authorities for failing to regularly implement and comply with the Convention, and failing to take appropriate steps to locate children in abduction cases. Brazil has previously been cited for a pattern of noncompliance since 2006.

Brazil is also the country where David Goldman had to fight for his son Sean to be returned to the United States after his wrongful retention by his mother. Sean was only returned to the U.S. after 5 years. The Goldman’s bitter experience in Brazil led to the passage of the ICAPRA.

However, the country of Brazil is not entirely on siesta. Among other steps, Brazil increased its number of Hague Network Judges, published a manual for judges hearing Convention cases, and resolved eight U.S. cases on file – including the return of six children to the United States.

ICAPRA also adds steps the U.S. can take when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children. The steps can include: a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels); public condemnation; delay or cancelation of official, or state visits; suspension of U.S. development assistance; and even the withdrawal or suspension of U.S. security assistance.

The 2022 Action Report is available here.

Divorce Rates in the Arab World

The increase in international divorce rates, due in part to changes in the nature of family and family life, can be seen thoughout the Arab world. Lebanon, in particular, is reporting a marked jump in divorces as more statistics become available.

Arab Divorce Rates

As the Simoom Blows

The Arab world is not insulated from the profound socio-economic changes around the world, and this is evident from the rise in the number of couples choosing to separate in several Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A recent study by the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center found that Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the Arab countries with the highest divorce rates.

In Kuwait, 48 percent of all marriages end in divorce, 40 percent in Egypt, 37.2 percent in Jordan, 37 percent in Qatar, and 34 percent in both the UAE and Lebanon.

Sheikh Wassim Yousef Al-Falah, a Shariah judge at Beirut’s religious court, told Arab News recently:

“On some days, we have up to 16 divorce cases in this court alone. The increasing divorce rate is a phenomenon that we have not seen before, although we do not favor divorce and focus on reconciliation.”

Experts believe this trend has been driven by a combination of economic pressures, evolving societal norms, legal reforms and, above all, the changing role of women.

Florida Divorce

I’ve written international divorce rates before. In the United States, many complained that no-fault divorce led to an increase in divorce rates here. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery.

Proving fault often required additional expenses on behalf of the aggrieved party, only serving to make the divorce process more expensive and cumbersome than it already was.

In the years leading up to the enactment of “no-fault” divorce, courts often granted divorces on bases that were easier to prove, the most common being “mental cruelty.”

Over time, the “no-fault” movement expanded to other states, although interestingly it only reached the typically progressive state of New York in 2010. Whether or not it is intimacy or communication, you do not need to list a reason for a divorce other than an irretrievable break in the marriage.

Like the Cedars of Lebanon

Through much of history, especially among the more conservative cultures of the Arab world, a woman’s place was long considered to be in the home, handling the needs of the family, while male relatives studied and went to work.

Now, as Arab nations modernize their economies and reform their legal systems, women are becoming more independent, increasingly pursuing higher education, progressing in their careers, and choosing to marry and have children later in life.

As a result, Arab women have developed a keener awareness of their civil rights, personal ambitions and self-respect. They increasingly refuse to tolerate domestic violence and are capable of supporting themselves financially.

“The current statistics compiled by the religious courts that handle the personal status of Lebanese citizens and foreigners residing in Lebanon reflect an increase in divorce requests, especially those submitted by women.”

In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationship also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown.

Reforms to the legal status of women in Lebanon have drawn particular attention in recent years, with the introduction of a slew of legislation designed to protect them from sexual harassment and domestic abuse. However, human rights monitors say the reforms do not go far enough.

Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have piled further pressure on relationships as living standards plummeted, people lost their jobs and households were forced into long periods of constant close proximity under lockdown.

Several countries around the world reported spikes in domestic violence during the pandemic and Lebanon is no exception. The nation’s economic woes and disruption to court procedures during the health crisis appear to be making matters worse.

The figures for divorce in Lebanon might be somewhat skewed by the growing use of marriage as a means of gaining citizenship in another country, as waves of young people move abroad in search of better opportunities.

In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationships also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown.

Lebanese citizens will often move between sects to facilitate a divorce. Couples from the Maronite sect, for instance, the courts of which forbid the annulment of marriage in all but the most extreme circumstances, might turn instead to the Catholic or Orthodox sects, which allow the annulment of marriages.

They might even turn to the Sunni sect to access divorce procedures before converting back to their original sect. According to Shariah, divorce — known as khula — has been permitted since the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Obtaining a divorce in a Sunni religious court is considered easier than in a Shiite religious court, after these courts developed new rules that raised the age for child custody, amended the dowry and banned underage marriage.

Family values are cherished in Arab culture, and authorities — both religious and secular — tend to prefer that parents stay together for the sake of their children. Experts believe marriage counseling, better education for young couples, more open discussions about relationships, and even a relaxation of the social taboos surrounding premarital social interaction between men and women could help reduce overall divorce rates.

The Arab News article is here.

Hague Convention, Domestic Violence, and Rights of Custody

Questions arise about a parent’s right of custody in every international custody case, especially Hague Convention child abduction cases. A Colorado district court recently had to make the tough call whether a parent lost his rights of custody after a domestic violence injunction was put in place against him.

Hague Rights of Custody

Rocky Mountain High

In February 2015, an Australian citizen and a United States citizen married in Las Vegas. They lived in the U.S. for the next two years before traveling to Australia with their three-month-old son – who was born in Australia. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, taking numerous trips, moving frequently between rental properties, staying occasionally with family and friends, and camping in a trailer and tent.

In April 2021, while staying at an Airbnb, the parents had an argument which resulted in the Father being escorted to the police station. By the time he returned to the Airbnb, the Mother had left. The Mother had also obtained a temporary protection order against the father based on allegations of domestic violence.

The domestic violence protection order provided the Father:

must not approach to within 100 metres of where [Mother or the children] live[ ], work[ ] or frequent[ ]—except for the purposes of having contact with children but only as set out in writing between the parties or in compliance with an order under the Family Law Act or when contact with a child is authorised by a representative of the Department of Communities (Child Safety).

The order also provides that Father “must not contact or attempt to contact or arrange for someone else (other than a lawyer) to contact” Respondent or the children . . . and “must not follow or remain or approach to within 100 metres” of Mother or the children. The order was subsequently made permanent for a period of five years.

In May 2021, the Mother and the children came to the United States, and they have lived in Colorado ever since. The Father filed an action seeking return of the children under the Hague Convention and in breach of his custody rights under Australian law.

International Child Custody and the Hague Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Hague Convention. The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children to the State of their habitual residence to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

Rights of custody can arise by operation of law or by reason of a judicial or administrative decision, or by reason of an agreement having legal effect under the law of that State. Rights of custody include rights relating to the care of the person of the child and, in particular, the right to determine the child’s place of residence.

Slippery Slope

The Colorado judge found that the Father failed to show what custody rights, if any, he retained under the Australian Family Law Act. After the domestic violence injunction was made permanent for five years, the Father had the burden to prove what his rights of custody were after the injunction — a prerequisite to establishing that his children’s removal was in breach of his rights of custody.

The Father gave no evidence or testimony on the matter and the Court did not want to assume what remaining rights he had after the order and whether they were substantial enough that  removal of the children breached his rights.

Not every court has held that the entry of a domestic violence injunction meant the loss of rights of custody under the Hague Convention. In a Maryland case, a court found that a domestic violence injunction was aimed at protecting the safety of the Mother, rather than rescinding parental rights of the Father. Accordingly, the domestic violence injunction was not found to be the equivalent of an order rescinding parental rights.

The case is available here.

Divorce and Digital Accounts

Many couples are not only tied together in matrimony, but in their digital accounts too. If roughly half of marriages end in divorce, how do courts manage an equitable distribution of digital accounts such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and with House of the Dragon underway) HBO?

Digital Divorce

Stranger Things

The Washington Post reports that the average American has upwards of 150 digital accounts, according to password-management company Dashlane. That’s a decades-long record of an autonomous life lived online.

If a breakup is going to be an ugly one, a vindictive ex-spouse can cause a lot of digital damage. For instance, if you share cloud storage, or an Apple ID with your ex-spouse, there is a risk everything – from your photos and documents to your browsing and email history can be revealed.

Moving out of the marital home is already a hard and emotional decision. But, now you are faced with taking precautions when you are about to leave your digital home.

As soon as divorce becomes a reality, you need to decide if it’s time to change all the passwords to the accounts you plan on keeping after separation. This is especially true if you share devices like a computer or tablet. Many sources tell you to remember your passwords and create new ones for each account.

Florida Equitable Distribution

I have written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

However, when distributing the marital assets between spouses, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution based on all relevant factors.

In Florida, nonmarital assets include things such as assets acquired separately by either party by will or by devise, income from nonmarital assets, and assets excluded as marital in a valid written agreement.

Importantly for a hi-tech divorce, non-marital assets would include assets acquired and liabilities incurred by either party before the marriage, and assets acquired and liabilities incurred in exchange for such assets and liabilities.

Netflix and Chill?

In some cases, a couple can divide, close, or even trade digital assets and decide which of the two households will keep an account. Sharing a Netflix account within your household, for example, may save money. But after divorce keep in mind that account sharing is only permitted for users within the same household. Netflix has announced it will crack down on illegal account sharing.

Putting aside the streaming services, like Netflix, which can easily be closed or limited, many couples may need to continue to share access to certain online accounts, even after a divorce or separation.

It is not hard to see why some accounts might need to stay active. For example, a couple’s joint checking account and credit card account may need to remain active so that certain bills during the divorce can be timely paid. Electronic access to statements and transactions; automatic bill payment services, medical insurance and cloud storage and document sites for photos and important documents and other files may be necessary too.

The law has not caught up with the digital divorce. There are no specific statutes for sharing accounts or establishing consequences should an ex-spouse or spouse change a password to lock out shared accounts.

Depending on the account, you may need to share a single login, set up separate logins to access the same account, or create a new, separate account in your own name. Anyone considering divorce has to secure their online identity, protect their passwords, protect their privacy, and most likely divide or close the shared streaming services.

The Washington Post article is here.

Interfaith Marriage and Divorce

Increasingly, couples are in interfaith marriages, meaning each person is from a different religion. Along with societal disapproval, are there any other possible problems a couple in an interfaith marriage face that could lead to divorce? A recent Indian case sheds some light.

Interfaith Marriage

Gujarat

India is a country of many religions. In the western state of Gujarat, roughly 88.6 percent of the population is Hindu and about 9.7 percent are Muslim. Recently, a division bench of the Gujarat High Court granted relief to an interfaith couple – but then went on to caution the wife’s parents not to “misbehave” due to their opposition to the interfaith marriage.

The order prohibiting in-law misbehavior concerns the marriage of a 26-year-old Muslim man to a 20-year-old Hindu woman under the Special Marriage Act in Ahmedabad in May 2021. The Special Marriage Act is a law that allows solemnization of marriages irrespective of the religion of the couple.

The Act also requires parties to give a 30-day public notice of their intention to marry. The public notice is displayed at the office of the marriage officer, inviting potential objections to the marriage.

However, the woman’s parents were opposed to the marriage and, the couple decided that the woman will stay at her parental home until their approval.

According to the court petition, the woman was subjected to physical and mental cruelty by her father over the marriage. Then, in December 2021, the woman left her home willingly and started residing at her matrimonial house.

The court also directed the woman’s parents to share the books and clothes of the woman that are in the parents’ possession as the woman is “desirous of continuing her studies,” while disposing the petition.

Interfaith Marriages

I have written about religion and divorce before. Marrying within the faith is still common in the United States, with nearly seven-in-ten married people (69%) saying that their spouse shares their religion, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

A comparison of recent and older marriages shows that having a spouse of the same religion may be less important to many Americans today than it was decades ago.

The Pew Religious Landscape Study found that almost four-in-ten Americans (39%) who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. By contrast, only 19% of those who wed before 1960 report being in a religious intermarriage.

Some research suggested that marriages between members of the same religious group may be more durable than intermarriages. If this is true, the rise in religious intermarriage over time may not be as pronounced as it appears, since the Religious Landscape Study measures only marriages intact today.

Other surveys looking at divorce rates did not find an overall lower – higher divorce rate among interfaith couples. But did find that certain combinations made it much more likely that the marriage would end in divorce.

The most likely interfaith marriages to end in divorce were Evangelicals married to someone of no faith. This may simply be the case that the further apart the religions, the more likely divorce may be.

Interfaith India

The woman’s father, however, then filed a “false complaint” with the Danilimda police station alleging that his daughter left the house with cash and ornaments.

In response, the police visited the house of the husband and “started harassing the family members of the petitioner (husband) in order to get custody” of his wife. To “avoid unnecessary harassment by the police”, the couple left for Ajmer in Rajasthan.

The police soon brought the couple back to Danilimda police station and “illegally and arbitrarily” took the woman in custody. Following production before a magistrate court, was housed at Nari Vikas Gruh in Paldi.

The magistrate court subsequently handed over custody of the woman to her parents. Soon, represented by advocate Rafik Lokhandwala, the petitioner-husband moved the Gujarat HC with a habeas corpus petition.

The Indian Express article is here.

Pet Custody in China

Pet custody is sweeping the world. In the People’s Republic of China, a recent divorce settlement was stalled after the divorcing couple was unable to agree on who was entitled to custody of the pet corgi.

Pet Custody

The New Kids in Divorce?

The couple, surnamed Xu and Li, from Quzhou city in Zhejiang, one of the more wealthy provinces in eastern China, agreed to get divorced in April this year. The parties reached agreement on the distribution of their joint assets and debts after their seven-year marriage, with one furry exception.

The couple have no children, but both are enthusiastic animal lovers. Accordingly, custody of a pet corgi dog they had raised together became a central focus of their divorce.

The family court helped the couple divide up joint assets, including property and vehicles quickly, as neither party had any objections. However, when it came to their pet dog, the court was surprised that both demanded full custody of the pet corgi.

Florida Pet Custody

I’ve written on the development of pet custody cases and statutes around the world before. Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent internationally. That’s because lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals as pet ownership increases.

Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family, some would argue they’re a modern couple’s new kids. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.

Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.

Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs like Florida. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation. A new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases. The law gives judges the power to consider the care and the best interest of the pet when making decisions.

According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.

Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more prevalent, particularly when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for, and are both attached to, the pet.

Quzhou’s Corgi Custody Case

The woman, Xu, told the court that she deserved ownership of the corgi. She testified that not only did she buy the dog, but that she raised the corgi by herself. The corgi has become a part of her family and has been by her side ever since, she claimed.

In undermining the Husband’s custody request, she added that her ex-husband Li didn’t take responsibility for looking after the corgi. She described him as a workaholic, who in his spare time played video games.

Although Li acknowledged that he did not feed the animal as often as his ex-wife, or clean up after it, he said he often walked the dog and considered it to be his child.

The court accepted that the corgi was a joint asset in the marriage, but one which couldn’t be divided easily. Eventually, the couple reached an agreement that the corgi would live with the woman, while every month Li should pay alimony to her for taking care of the dog. If the animal became ill, they must share the dog’s medical expenses. Li was given legal visitation rights to the corgi.

After the story was reported, it caused widespread online conversation about the fate of pets in a divorce. One person commented: “A pet is a part of the family, it’s understandable the divorcing couple wanted to fight for it.” Another said: “Now that more couples give up on having children, keeping pets as kids will probably rise.”

Data showed that in 2021 the number of pet owners in China had reached 68.44 million. In the U.S. roughly 70 percent of households own a pet, with dogs being the most numerous pet and salt water fish coming in last.

The South China Morning Post article is here.

 

Is A Telephone Marriage Valid

After a Husband challenged the validity of his Bangladesh telephone marriage, many brides should be concerned whether their religious marriage is valid. A family judge in Ohio, presiding over the parties’ divorce, recently ruled that their Bangladesh telephone marriage was valid. But, how would an appellate court view it?

Marriage Valid

A Fairy Tale Telephone Wedding

On August 22, 2005, a couple got married during a telephone marriage ceremony, which was conducted over a speaker phone.

At the time of the wedding, husband resided in the United States, wife resided in Bangladesh, and both were citizens of Bangladesh. The Husband traveled to New York and was with friends and relatives during the ceremony. Wife was in Bangladesh with friends and family members and husband’s father.

Also present in Bangladesh was a person who solemnized the marriage and identified himself as an assistant marriage registrar, and a community leader who appeared to sign the marriage register on husband’s behalf as his “pleader.”

Pictures of the marriage ceremony were provided and witnesses said the solemnization was according to Sharia law.

On July 15, 2019, after wife filed for divorce in Ohio, the Husband countered arguing that their marriage was invalid under Bangladesh law. The Husband reasoned that because the marriage was unlawfully registered in violation of the Muslim Marriages & Divorces Registration Act, the marriage was invalid and his Wife was not entitled to spousal support or property rights.

But the Wife countered that under Bangladesh law, an invalid registration would not render an otherwise valid marriage invalid. That’s because it is purely a civil contract, and further, that neither writing nor any religious ceremony is essential to validate a marriage under Bangladesh law.

The trial court disagreed with the Husband, and entered summary judgment and then a divorce. The Husband appealed.

Florida Marriage Validity

I’ve written about marriage validity, and the intersection between religious marriage and civil marriage before. First off, in order to be validly married in Florida, you need a license from the government.

Getting a marriage license may seem like a trivial obligation, but if you want your religious marriage recognized in court, you must get a marriage license.

There is a fee for getting a marriage license, and that fee is reduced for attending pre-marital counseling. The license is valid for 60 days. The officiant at the ceremony must certify that the marriage was solemnized.

The certified marriage license must be returned to the clerk or an issuing judge within 10 days, and the clerk or judge is required to keep a correct record of certified marriage licenses.

Florida courts have repeatedly warned people that they cannot depart from the requirement of the Florida Statutes to have a license, otherwise the courts would be creating common-law marriages, which are not recognized here.

If you only have the religious marriage, but do not file for a marriage license, your marriage will not likely be recognized, and you cannot divorce, and cannot make claims for equitable distribution, or ask a court for alimony.

The Mesh in Bangladesh

The Husband appealed after the trial court concluded his Nikah Nama marriage was valid. He argued on appeal that the trial court erred because of the lack of a validly executed contract and an invalid registration under Bangladesh law.

The appellate court found that the parties’ marriage in Bangladesh was valid. Wife demonstrated that their telephone marriage met the essentials of a valid Mohammedan and Bangladeshi marriage, and that registration of the marriage is not an essential element in order to establish the validity of a marriage.

The evidence also showed that the parties had a prolonged and relatively continuous cohabitation for over 12-years, held themselves out as husband and wife, they consummated the marriage, and they had a child together.

In a concurrence, one judge expressed his incredulity with the Husband’s position that there was no legal marriage. After all, the Husband entered into this country for his spouse, filed joint U.S. tax returns with her, and also took advantage of his employer’s generosity by getting a tuition benefit for the spouse of an employee.

The appellate opinion is here.