Florida Divorce and Foreign Laws

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in International Child Custody on Thursday, October 13, 2016.

Ms. Omari married a secular man in a secular marriage in New York. They later had a Muslim ceremony after moving to Lebanon. When they divorced, her religious marriage came back to haunt her.

As The Atlantic reports, although her husband was not religious, under Sharia family law in Lebanon, the father was granted custody of the couple’s two sons. And when he took them — along with all the furniture — there was nothing she could do.

“He became an Islamist overnight.”

This becomes an important matter in international custody disputes. In Lebanon, all matters of personal status — marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance — are governed by religious codes, of which there are 15 recognized by the state.

Each religious sect follows a distinct set of personal state laws (several of the country’s 18 sects fall under a single jurisdiction). By shunting citizens into religious communities, the personal status laws fracture the country’s four-million-strong population along sectarian lines in an intimate, personal way.

The 15 different sets of religious laws in Lebanon converge on one issue: all of them discriminate against women in one or more fields. For example:

– Evangelical Christians set the minimum age of marriage at 16 for males and 14 for females, as does the Armenian Orthodox Church.

– A Druze woman needs her male guardian’s permission to marry if she is under 21.

– For Sunnis and Shi’a, a male witness to a marriage is considered equivalent to two females.

The law in Lebanon is a by-product of Ottoman and colonial history. The early Ottomans gave authority over family law to four recognized religious groups.

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce before. Florida passed Florida Statute 61.0401, which prohibits courts in Florida from enforcing:

– A choice of law provision in a contract selecting the law of a foreign country which contravenes the strong public policy of this state or that is unjust or unreasonable.

– A forum selection clause in a contract that selects a forum in a foreign country if the clause is shown to be unreasonable or unjust or if strong public policy would prohibit the enforceability of the clause.

– A judgment or order of a court of a foreign country is not entitled to comity if the foreign court offends the public policy of this state.

Florida’s law does not mention Sharia. In fact, no religion is mentioned at all. However, in an international child custody case in Florida, to the extent Lebanon’s law violates Constitutional rights here, the Lebanese law may not be enforceable.

The Atlantic article is here

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