Ohio Appellate Court To Rule on the Interpretation of Islamic Marriage Contract- Mahr

As linguistic and cultural diversity in the United States continues to grow, American courts will increasingly deal with cross-cultural disputes, as well as with the intersection between foreign and domestic law, and, often, with the intersection between cultural or religious customs and domestic law.

In her latest article Martha Neil talks about an Ohio woman’s decision to appeal a court ruling that her ex-husband doesn’t have to pay the agreed $25,000 dowry she was promised in her Muslim marriage contract- mahr.

An Ohio judge ruled that mahr is a religious agreement rather than an enforceable legal contract. The judge’s rationale was that the mahr didn’t comply with Ohio standards for prenuptial contracts. In particular, the ex husband, claimed he didn’t understand at the time he signed the mahr in their case that he was agreeing to pay a dowry, and didn’t have a chance to consult a lawyer beforehand.

The judge cited an article in Southern California Law Review, which discusses the issue of court enforcement of Islamic marriage contracts. The article suggests that mahr agreements contracted in Muslim countries “should be unenforceable because they lack the intent to function as prenuptial agreements and are frequently too vague or contracted under duress” (page 227).

Further, on page 233, it argues:

By attempting to adhere to Islamic law out of respect for legal and cultural differences, courts risk perpetuating gender and economic inequalities. This danger is vividly illustrated by the interpretation of mahr agreements as prenuptials. Interpreting mahr agreements as prenuptials prevents women from exercising their rights to the marital estate upon divorce, unfairly leaving Muslim women destitute, if not actually wards of the state…

Instead, courts should override mahr agreement and apply ordinary property dissolution rules to Muslim divorces. If a court is particularly determined to honor the mahr agreement civilly, perhaps the court might at least credit the mahr payment to the amount owed by the husband in dissolving the estate between the two parties. If Muslim couples take their religious Qur’anic duty to pay mahr agreements seriously, they should seek enforcement through their religious institutions, not a civil court.

For additional information on professional translations in the context of enforceability of premarital agreements, click here to read our legal translation blawg post “Accurate Translations Hold the Keys to Binding Cross-Border Prenuptial Agreements”. And here to read our earlier legal translation blog post “Legal Document Translation, the Parol Evidence Rule and the Statute of Frauds: What You Need to Know About Cross-Border Prenuptial Agreements”.

Contact our professional translation service to retain professional court interpreters for government debriefings, depositions, hearings, IMEs, settlement conferences, mediation, arbitrations, and trials.

In Zawahiri v. Alwattar, (OH Ct. App., July 10, 2008), an Ohio court of appeals affirmed the domestic relations court’s refusal to enforce the mahr and held that the mahr contract is not a valid pre-nuptial agreement.

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