It is believed that in the last five years, people under the age of 40 having nikah-only marriages is as high as 80% in the UK. Therefore, the written ruling of Mr Justice Williams on the 31st July 2018 in the case of Akhter v Khan will be a welcomed step forward for those couples wishing to divorce in England and Wales.
Previous cases involving nikah marriages have concluded that, unless there had been a separate civil ceremony, the marriage was non-existent. This has meant that spouses have had no entitlement to apply to the courts for financial relief in respect of the family home, maintenance or pension provision if the marriage broke down.
However, in the case of Akhter v Khan, Mr Justice Williams took a different view.
In 1998 Nasreen Akhter and Mohammed Shanaz Khan had a nikah religious marriage ceremony, in front of 150 guests at a restaurant in Southall, West London. Upon her petitioning for divorce, Mr Khan, a businessman aged 46 looked to prevent Ms Akhter, a solicitor also aged 46 from bringing a case for financial relief to court by saying that they were only married under sharia or Islamic law, and therefore, it was a non-existent marriage, not recognised by the law of England and Wales.
The court heard that following the ceremony in 1998, Ms Akhter had seen Mr Khan as her husband and, Mr Khan would “always introduce me as his wife”. Every other person in their family and community considered them to be husband and wife.
After hearing the case, Mr Justice Williams concluded that this marriage falls within the scope of section 11 and was a marriage entered into in disregard of certain requirements as to the formation of marriage. It is therefore a void marriage [rather than non-existent as argued by Mr Khan] and the wife is entitled to a decree of nullity; entitling her to make an application for financial relief.
The ruling will no doubt give hope to the many thousands of Muslims in England and Wales; however, the case itself does not change section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and it remains the recommendation of sharia councils that Muslim couples should still undergo a civil marriage, as well as the religious ceremony.
Please do contact Biscoes for further advice.