A Detroit-area man must pay his former wife $50,000 under the terms of their Islamic prenup. Not only are prenuptial agreements on the rise among all engaged couples, they are also becoming very popular for religious couples. But is a religious prenup enforceable in the U.S.?
A Michigan man argued that a family court judge exceeded her authority by trying to resolve a religious issue in a divorce. In 2012, the husband approached Mohammed Ali and asked permission to marry Mr. Ali’s daughter.
They negotiated the terms of the arranged marriage. Mr. Ali proposed that defendant could marry his daughter if defendant paid her $51,000, a payment the parties referred to as Mehr, a traditional component of Islamic marriages.
He agreed to the payment proposed by Mr. Ali. The Wife considered the offer of marriage, on the financial terms negotiated by her father, for approximately one year and ultimately decided to accept the marriage proposal and the parties married in 2013.
I’ve written about prenuptial agreements and even about a religious prenup. Prenuptial agreements are about more than just resolving uncertainty in a marriage.
Any couple who brings any personal or business assets to the union can benefit from one. They are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, properties and other investments.
A prenuptial agreement (or “prenup” for short) is a contract between people intending to marry. A prenup determines spousal rights when the marriage ends by death or divorce. This can be especially important in second marriages.
If you divorce without a prenup, your property rights are determined under state law, and a spouse may have a claim to alimony while the suit for divorce is pending and after entry of a judgment.
Without a prenup, if your spouse dies, you will have statutory rights under state law to a share of your deceased spouse’s estate and may also have a right to lump sum death benefits, or a survivor annuity under a retirement plan.
That’s where prenups come in. Prospective spouses may limit or expand these rights by an agreement. Prenups are also used to protect the interests of children from a prior marriage, and to avoid a contested divorce. Prenups can be very worthwhile provided they’re done right.”
The most basic of prenups should list an inventory of premarital assets that would stay with the original owner in case of a divorce. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable.
Back in the Michigan case, it was uncontested that the Husband and Wife had only a verbal agreement for payment of $51,000, in consideration of marriage, until the day of their marriage ceremony.
During that ceremony, the parties signed a document that placed the contract to marry in writing. The one-page document signed by the parties was titled “Marriage Certificate” which is the basis for the religious prenup dispute.
The document stated that the Groom solemnly proposes to marry the bride and take her as my wife and agree to pay Mehr of $51,000 Later. Furthermore, the document stated that the Bride solemnly accepted the proposal.
During the course of the marriage, the Husband made several payments, totaling $3,900, toward the $51,000 mehr. In 2016, the Wife filed an action for separate maintenance and the Husband filed a counterclaim for divorce.
During the divorce trial, plaintiff asked the trial court to enforce the contract to marry and award her $47,100, the unpaid amount of the mehr.
The trial court concluded that the parties executed a valid, simple contract and entered a judgment in plaintiff’s favor in the amount of $47,100. In addition, the trial court granted the parties a judgment of divorce, denied the request for spousal support, and divided the parties’ marital assets.
Does Shariah Law Apply?
The Husband actually argued that the contract states on its face that it was made under Shariah law and that it was not made under any state law. But did the Mehr merely provide for a religious obligation or was it an enforceable contractual obligation under Michigan law?
The trial court clearly stated that it was not applying Shariah law, but was applying Michigan law to the parties’ contract:
“We are not interpreting or applying the contract between the parties under Shariah law, but are applying Michigan law to the review of the parties’ contract and the judgment of divorce entered by the trial court.”
In this case, neither the trial court nor this Court is required to resolve ecclesiastical questions. The trial court did not claim any power to grant the parties a divorce under Islamic law, but only the power to grant the parties a civil divorce under Michigan law.
The trial court did not decide the parties’ respective religious obligations under the tenets of their faith tradition, but only decided the parties’ respective obligations under long-established principles of Michigan contract law. Because this case does not require the resolution of any ecclesiastical questions, we conclude that defendant’s argument is without merit.
U.S. courts don’t enforce religious laws, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim. U.S. courts enforce American law. As long as a religious agreement can be enforced without resolving theological questions it may be enforceable.
The U.S. News article is here.