Legal Translation for Mahr Payments in Islamic Marriages
We’ve blogged about certified translation of prenuptial agreements and legal translation of marriage document from French to English. The cases discussed below involve disputes regarding the payment of mahr, which is a component of Islamic marriages and require legal translation services from Arabic to English, certified translation from Persian to English, and legal translation from Turkish to English.
Similar to a dowry, mahr involves the payment of a sum of money as a condition of marriage. While the payment of mahr to a bride is mandatory according to the Islamic faith, often times the payment is not fulfilled when the marriage is not successful. In the case of divorce, Muslim couples often turn to the legal system to settle disputes involving the payment of mahr. How courts decide issues involving mahr can vary. The cases below each have different outcomes as a result of different factual scenarios involving mahr.
Ali v. Syed
Ali v. Syed involves a lawsuit brought by the famous boxer Mohammed Ali’s daughter against her former husband involving the payment of mahr. In this case, the defendant asked Mohammed Ali for permission to marry his daughter in 2012. Mr. Ali agreed to allow the defendant to marry his daughter if the defendant gave Mr. Ali’s daughter a mahr payment of $51,000. The defendant agreed to the amount and proposed to Mohammad Ali’s daughter with Mr. Ali’s permission. Mr. Ali’s daughter (plaintiff) considered the marriage proposal for about one year before finally agreeing to accept the marriage proposal.
The parties eventually married in 2013. While the mahr payment was a verbal agreement only, the parties did sign a document during their marriage ceremony confirming in writing their agreement that the defendant was to pay the plaintiff $51,000 in mahr.
The marriage did not last. Three years after the wedding, the plaintiff filed a claim for separate maintenance and the defendant filed for divorce. While the defendant had paid the plaintiff some money over the course of three years, there was still $47,100 in unpaid mahr. Accordingly, the plaintiff asked the court to enforce the mahr agreement and award her the amount of the unpaid mahr. The trial court found that the parties had entered into a valid contract and entered judgment against the defendant for $47,100. The court also granted the parties a divorce and divided the marital assets.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court had erred in granting the plaintiff’s request for a judgment in the amount of the unpaid mahr. The defendant argued that the mahr agreement between the parties was an unenforceable antenuptial agreement. The court found that the fact that the defendant made payments to the plaintiff during their marriage was evidence of the fact that the parties had not intended to address the division of property in the event they divorced.
Accordingly, the court held that the mahr agreement was not an antenuptial agreement and that the plaintiff was entitled to receive the unpaid mahr. The defendant also argued that the contract was not enforceable as it stated that it was made under Shariah law and not according to the laws of any state. The defendant claimed that the contract was thus unenforceable under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.
However, the Michigan court of appeals held that the trial court had specifically noted that it was not applying Shariah law, but rather Michigan law in deciding the validity of the parties’ contract. Likewise, the court of appeals also confirmed that it was applying Michigan law and not Sharia law. The court noted that under Winkler by Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc. 500 Mich. 327, 339, 901 NW2d 566 (2017), the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine hinges on whether the actual adjudication of a particular legal claim would require the resolution of ecclesiastical question.” In finding that the abstention doctrine did not apply, the court held that neither the trial court nor the appellate court was required to resolve ecclesiastical questions as neither court claimed any power to grant a divorce under Islamic law but only the ability to grant a civil divorce under Michigan law. Likewise, the court noted that the trial court did not allege any ability to decide the parties’ religious obligations to one another, only contractual obligations under state law.
Finally, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the contract was unenforceable because it was illusory. The court held that the plaintiff had fulfilled her promise to marry the defendant; accordingly, she was entitled to performance on his part. Based on the foregoing, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision to enter judgment in the amount of $47,100 in the plaintiff’s favor.
Ravasizadeh v. Niakosari
This case also involves a dispute over mahr only with a different outcome. In this case, an Iranian couple married in New York in 2000. As per Iranian custom, the marriage involved the negotiation and execution of a mahr contract that in this case required the husband to pay the wife 700 gold coins. The parties separated in 2002, and the wife filed for divorce in Massachusetts and then filed an action in an Iranian court to enforce the mahr.
The Iranian court found in the wife’s favor and ordered the husband to pay her the 700 gold coins. The husband appealed, but the verdict was upheld. Based on the Iranian court’s ruling, the trial court ordered the husband to pay the value of the coins into the court of Iran and held that if the Supreme Court of Iran were to reverse the lower court’s decision, that the husband would have to pay the wife one-half the value of the 700 coins as part of the divorce judgment. The trial court also divided the marital assets. The court further ordered that the husband had the exclusive right to his inherited property in Tehran but that the value of appreciation of the property during the marriage must be divided equally.
The husband appealed the trial court’s divorce judgment. The husband argued that the trial court erred in awarding one half of the appreciation in the value of his properties in Iran to his wife. The husband further argued that the trial court judge did not have jurisdiction over him to order him to pay one half of the value of the 700 coins if the Supreme Court of Iran reversed the earlier judgment.
The Appeals Court of Massachusetts disagreed with the trial court’s ruling. The Appeals Court noted that it normally defers to judgments from another country as a matter of comity. The court found that in this case, since the parties had submitted to the jurisdiction of the Iranian courts and did not seek enforcement of the mahr in Massachusetts, that the court should not disturb the Iranian court’s ruling. Therefore, the court held that the trial court erred in ordering the husband to pay the wife the amount of the mahr agreement if the Supreme Court of Iran were to find in his favor. In essence, the court held that, “if the Supreme Court of Iran does not enforce the mahr, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to do so; if the Supreme Court of Iran does enforce it, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to dispose of it differently.”
The cases discussed above are: Ali v. Syed, Court No. 342196, decided on January 29, 2019 by the State of Michigan Court of Appeals and Ravasizadeh v. Niakosari, Court No. 16-P-1131, decided on September 25, 2018 by the Appeals Court of Massachusetts.
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