Islamic Divorce in New York State

Muslims residing in the State of New York are in a dual situation when it comes to the implementation of family law. On one hand, they are governed by the religious law of Islam, known as Islamic sharia, and on the other hand, the secular family law of the state of New York. To Muslims, the family law of Islam mandates that marriage and divorce among Muslims should be done in accordance with the Islamic sharia, regardless of whether they live in an Islamic or secular country. Civil divorce decrees obtained by secular courts are not recognized by Islamic sharia.

Under Islamic law, a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, whereas a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying non-Muslim man. Under these rules, a non-Muslim woman marrying a Muslim man in compliance with Islamic sharia is subject to the rules of Islam in the areas of divorce, child custody and inheritance. In other words, a non-Muslim woman who gets married to a Muslim man in accordance with Islamic sharia, loses custody of her children in case of divorce, or in case the husband dies. Consequently, a non-Muslim woman marrying to a Muslim man is forced, under the rules of Islamic sharia, to surrender custody of her son when he reaches the age of seven, and her daughter at the age of nine. She also prohibited from inheritance. These rules are applied throughout Muslim countries with a system of sharia-based family law in place.

Marriage Contracts in Islamic Sharia
Under the rules of Islamic sharia, the marriage contract should include: (1) names and addresses of the couple; (2) name of the guardian of the bride; (3) names and addresses of two male witnesses; and (4) the amount of mahr, or a promise of money or its equivalent to be given by the husband to the bride. Like any other civil contracts, Islamic marriage contract should be in the form of offer and acceptance by the parties.

Contrary to the popular notion that mahr is dowry; it is not. A dowry is what the wife contributes to her marriage while mahr is an obligation on the husband to pay his future bride. Others call it a gift; it is not a gift either, because mahr is an obligation on the husband and is mandated by the Quran. The Quran calls it sadaq (Quran 4:4). If no stipulation of mahr is provided in the marriage contract, the marriage remains legal and in effect; in such a situation, the “qadi” (judge) will determine the amount of mahr, which remains a property of the wife alone. The amount of mahr can be paid partially: up-front (Arabic, muqaddam), and deferred until divorce or death of the husband (Arabic, muakhar), or it may be prepaid in full before the consummation of the marriage.

Legal Status of the Mahr Provision in Islamic Law
The most important feature of the mahr provision is that one party makes an offer and the other can accept or refuse to accept. It is a financial settlement between the couple in case a divorce occurs or the husband dies. Although, Muslim women do not personally bargain for the mahr agreements, and, in almost all of the divorce cases that I have seen so far, in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, Islamic marriage agreements involving mahr are negotiated by the representative (Arabic Wali) of the bride.

In the State of New York, an Islamic marriage contract involving mahr may be considered premarital agreement for a divorce settlement. In legal terms, this is called a concurrence of wills or meeting of the minds of the future husband and his future wife. This also means that each party from an objective perspective engaged in conduct manifesting their acceptance, and a contract was formed when both parties met such a requirement.

The basic rule is that a premarital contract will be interpreted and enforced in accordance with the law of the state in which it was entered into. Thus an Islamic marriage contract signed in Egypt according to the Egyptian law for example, must be interpreted according to the law of Egypt. The Restatement of the Law Second Conflict of Laws 3d, Chapter 8, Contracts, is clear about the law for the state chosen by the parties to a contract. The text of the Restatement reads: “(1) The law of the state chosen by the parties to govern their contractual rights and duties will be applied if the particular issues is one which the parties could have resolved by an explicit provision in their agreement directed to that issue.”

Looking at both academic and case studies in this area of law, this article points the reader in the direction of the current trends in the treatment of mahr in New York State and to address Islamic family law issues relevant to New York State law and the working of its legal system. The mahr provision in an Islamic marriage contract has been interpreted differently in other states. For more information on treatment of mahr in other states, the individual should seek legal advice.

Interpretation of the Mahr in New York State
Muslim men and women assert their Islamic legal rights in American family courts; as a result, Islamic sharia governing their marriages and divorces becomes an important and complicated part of the American legal landscape. This leads to a discussion of court cases involving Muslim marriage and divorce litigations in the State of New York, as well as whether New York courts will enforce the terms of Muslim marriage contracts, mainly the mahr provision.

New York courts have jurisdiction over divorce cases within its territory, with specific focus on premarital contract structured in accordance with foreign laws. And, various state courts have found no public policy prohibition in enforcing such agreements. In New York, a mahr agreement may be interpreted within the context of a contractual obligation.

In Aziz v. Aziz, the couple entered into a mahr agreement which required the payment of $5,032, with $32 advanced and $5,000 deferred until divorce. The New York court ruled that the contract conformed to New Yorks contract requirements, and that “its secular terms are enforceable as a contractual obligation, notwithstanding that it was entered into as part of a religious ceremony.” (See Aziz v. Aziz, N.Y.S.2d at 124).

In this case, the husband argued that the mahr agreement provided in the Islamic marriage contract could not be enforced because it was a religious document and was not enforceable as a contract. The wife responded by stating that although the mahr is a religious stipulation; its secular terms can be properly enforced by the court. The court agreed with the wife and ordered the husband to pay the deferred mahr. The court found that the mahr agreement complied with the necessary statutory requirements to be recognized and enforceable as a premarital agreement and held that the secular terms of the mahr agreement were “enforceable as a contractual obligation, notwithstanding that it was entered into as part of a religious ceremony.” The court stated that the mahr agreed to by the couple constituted a secular debt of $5,000 and ordered the husband to fulfill the terms of the agreement.

The case was based entirely on another New York of Appeals case of Avitzur v. Avitzur involving a Jewish Ketubah in which a Jewish woman sued for specific performance to force her ex-husband to appear before a Beth Din (Jewish Court). Under Jewish Law, only a man can grant a divorce, or “Get”. Until he does, the woman cannot remarry within the Jewish faith to anybody. Her children will then be considered illegitimate. In order that a “Get” may be obtained, both husband and wife have to appear before the Beth Din. The husband refused to appear, leaving the woman in a state of marital limbo, making her an “agunah.” The New York Court of Appeals found that the Jewish ketubah constituted a valid premarital agreement that could be enforced despite the religious underpinnings of the agreement.

Conclusion
As the second largest religion, and with the number of Muslims immigrating to the United State on the rise, American courts are more frequently looking into Islamic divorce litigations between Muslim couples. Out of respect to Islamic law and culture, American courts attempt to apply certain provisions from Islamic sharia, such as the mahr contract in divorce cases involving Muslim couples. By doing so, American courts risk involving their arguments with gender and economic inequalities between Muslim men and women, leaving Muslim women destitute. The application of mahr agreements in Islamic divorce in the United States prevents women from exercising their rights to equitable distribution of marital assets upon divorce. If the courts need to extend their respect to Islamic law in divorce situations, they should look into whether the wife had a choice in signing the mahr agreement. Muslim women do not personally bargain for the mahr agreements, and, in almost all of the divorce cases that I have seen so far, in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, the Islamic marriage agreements involving mahr are negotiated by the representative (Arabic Wali) of the bride. Other states do not regard the mahr to be a premarital contract. Individuals seeking information on the treatment of mahr by other states should seek legal advice from a competent attorney.

DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Republishing of this article is hereby granted by the author.

Residence Permit In Latvia, Immigration In Europe

The recent amendments in the immigration policy at Latvia have made it pretty much possible to get Residence permit in Latvia, immigration in Europe based on employment and investment criteria. With effect from 1st of July 2010 the Republic of Latvia allows obtaining a residence permit on new possibilities. An intending migrant can avail a TRP temporary residence permit in Latvia for a period of 5 years by :-

Starting a business or enterprise in Latvia on a minimum investment of 36,000 EUR and a paid tax of minimum 28,000 EUR

Opening a subordinated deposit in a Bank at Latvia or Latvian origin with a minimum deposit of 300,000 EUR for a term more than 5 years

Buying real estate in Latvia for a minimum 1,43,000 EUR in Urban areas such as Riga or 72,000 EUR at any rural area

The Temporary Residence Permit in Latvia makes it possible for any overseas migrant to stay at Latvia for a fixed duration of time. The visa is attached with a certificate on LTRP along with an identity number. The residence permit in Latvia allows the visitor spend good enough time to establish a business or seek employment. During the validity of the Latvian Temporary Residence Visa the migrant can have unrestricted access to Schengen countries and stay at one for a period of 90 days. The Temporary Residence Visa is meant for the immigrant lot that seeks business opportunities in not just Latvia but the entire Schengen Zone. The Residence permit in Latvia, immigration in Europe is especially unique for it lets the investor to make passive investments at the entire Schengen region along with Latvia. The business investment allows the immigrant to avail the convenience on travel without any strict requirements on physical residence.

The application process on Temporary Residence Visa can be completed in just a span of 30 days from the date of submitting the application along with the documents. The temporary visa however requires a good many documents to be submitted at the time of submitting the application.

A passport size photograph

Passport copy

Duly filled application form for the residence visa

Educational certificates

Certification on Litigation related issues if any

Medical certificate stating that the applicant doesnt suffer from Tuberculosis or any similar epidemic/pathogen

Documents that confirm any place of residence at the Republic of Latvia

Salary documents that confirm that the applicant meets the average wage criteria in the Republic of Latvia, which generally falls on LVL 398

Latvia offers the immigrant population a bundle of benefits similar to any other European nation or city. The immigration policy is such that the investors or migrants can make business investments or seek employment under the Temporary residence visa. A stay of a minimum 5 years allows the immigrant to first settle down in Latvia and then make efforts on a permanent residency status.

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