Shari’ah and Foreign Laws in a Florida Divorce

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Religious Divorces on Tuesday, January 14, 2014.

If you are in a divorce, and have religious divorce issues or foreign laws you must follow, can a Florida court uphold them? Last year the Florida Senate tried to restrict courts from applying foreign law to disputes relating to divorce. The ‘Anti-Shari’ah” bill died in the Senate by 1 vote. So can we now start divorcing under Sharia law? How about Jewish or Catholic rules?

As the Volokh Conspiracy recently posted, a New York court last week had to consider Saudi and Sharia law, and it turned out the world didn’t end:

In Standard Chartered Bank v. Ahmad Hamad AL Gosaibi and Bros. Co., 2014 WL 96219 (N.Y. trial ct. Jan. 10, 2014) the Defendants tried to quash a subpoena because compliance would expose them to civil and criminal penalties under Saudi Arabian law.

The plaintiffs countered that Saudi law and Shari’ah law actually obligated a Saudi debtor to fully disclose its assets to its creditors. So the disclosure was consistent with Saudi and Shari’ah law.

The New York court agreed with the plaintiff.

There are times when Sharia, and other religious or foreign laws, come up in a divorce. Sometimes contracts will stipulate a ‘choice of law’. For example, a prenuptial agreement may designate “New York” as the jurisdiction whose law governs disputes arising between the couple.

Other times, a foreign law or religious custom is highly probative, and relevant to a case, so a court will want to conduct a review of any foreign statutes, case law, or secondary sources, and will have to rely heavily on expert testimony. Consider the Standard Charter case above.

This can be good thing, and a restriction on using foreign, and especially Shari’ah law, in courts seems counterproductive. Our legal system has been around a while, and does a good job of dealing with foreign and religious issues.

Florida Statute Chapter 61 is not being replaced by the Bible, Torah or Quran anytime soon. But as the New York court shows, sometimes foreign laws and customs can shed light on a Florida court’s ability to resolve questions of fact and law.