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?
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.