No one likes divorces, but it is an unfortunate fact of life. Whether for Muslims or non-Muslims, divorce can have disastrous consequences. For Muslims living in western countries, these cases can become even more problematic, especially when Muslim husband and wife try to seek settlements in western or non-Muslim court systems, which are forced to look at these cases in light of both Islamic Shari’a laws and western secular laws.
For example, let’s review this real life divorce case of a Muslim couple – A US court ruled in favor of the husband that his ex-wife be granted only the Mahr (a few hundred dollars) that was agreed to at their marriage in their home country precluding her from any portion of her husband’s property and wealth in the US.
First – let’s straighten some terminology. Mahr, in a Muslim marriage context is a wedding contract that guarantees the bride a gift from her husband. A portion of this gift may be given at marriage (Muqaddam) and a portion of which may be delayed until later (Muakhhar), at the husband’s death or after divorce.
A prenuptial agreement on the other hand is a pre-marriage agreement that seeks to protect the assets of one spouse from the other in case of a divorce.
The problem is (as in the case mentioned above) that certain courts in western countries have ruled that Mahr is almost a prenuptial agreement thus denying one spouse (usually a wife) from any assets of the other (usually a husband).
These cases get even uglier and more complicated for Muslim couples who got married in their home countries but immigrated to western countries where they now seek divorce.
Numerous other divorce cases in the west also suggest that unless the Mahr promises the wife a large sum of money, divorcing wives invoke western and secular laws to get a portion of their husband’s wealth while the husbands try to enforce the payment of Mahr (usually a symbolic sum agreed to at the marriage).
There are other twists and turns to Muslim divorces in western countries. Another recent case is that of a couple in Ohio, USA, where the woman demanded Mahr as part of her divorce settlement, while the man refused to pay as there was no official “secular” contract. The court in Ohio ruled in favor of the husband, while the woman later appealed the court ruling.
We should note that under Islamic law, other than the stipulations of Mahr, spouses are usually entitled to retain their own assets without the need of distribution. However, specific cases and situations can make the rulings go differently.
An excellent paper on “Islamic Marriage Contracts in American Courts” provides examples of rulings of many Muslim marriage cases that have ended up in divorce. As the paper highlights, these cases have been argued in the US courts for many years and the rulings have ranged from granting the wife a few dollars negotiated part of the mahr to the wife being granted a large portion of a multi-million dollar estate.
This obviously is a very deep subject that does not necessarily have clear and concise answers. However, a mere knowledge of the subject can prevent numerous headaches (not to mention heartaches) in the future. To those who are interested, the article provided in the link above provides a lot of examples.
Some of the issues to consider are the following:
The importance of Mahr as part of a Muslim marraige contract
The viability and reality of enforcing Mahr agreements in non-Muslim countries
Technical differences between Mahr provisions and prenuptial agreements
Interpreting Mahr agreements as prenuptials – pros and cons.
So, the issue is this – Some divorcing husbands (especially those who negotiated a small amount for Mahr) say that wife should be entitled to what was agreed at marriage. On the other hand, the divorcing women (especially the ones living in western countries) argue that as they leave their families and homelands to come with their husbands in the new country, they deserve a bigger piece of the husbands’ wealth pie.
What do you think? Do you know of any such cases? Submit your comments or feedback by scrolling to the end of the page below.