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Religious Marriages – Where do you stand?

Couples who have a religious marriage in England need to be very aware of their rights otherwise, as history has now taught us, this can come back to haunt you. A religious marriage in England will not be treated as a legally recognised marriage unless it’s followed up by a civil ceremony. If you don’t then the implications can be life changing.

In contrast, a religious marriage abroad may be treated as a legally recognised marriage in England. A good example of this is the Islamic marriage called a Nikah. When carried out abroad, it can be recognised as a valid marriage in England as long as it’s recognised as a legal marriage in the county in which it took place. Therefore, a Nikah carried out in Pakistan in accordance with their customs and procedures will be recognised as a valid marriage in England. However; the same cannot be said for a Nikah carried out in England as it does not comply with all the procedures necessary in this country to be recognised as a valid marriage.

If you have a religious ceremony in England but no civil ceremony and later separate, then you might be left wondering what you can do about your marital finances. The short answer is that your options will be much more limited. This has been made abundantly clear in a recent decision made by the Court of Appeal involving a couple, Ms Akhter and Mr Khan. They had a religious ceremony and were ‘married’ for 18 years. Initially, the High Court decided it would consider this to be a void marriage which might sound bleak, but it did mean that the parties could sort out their finances in much the same way as any other married couple in England. However, on 14 February 2020, the Court of Appeal completely overturned this decision holding it out to be an invalid marriage which is unfortunately as bleak as it sounds.

In summary, this means that after 18 years of marriage the couple will be treated like no more than two people living together. This doesn’t mean their options for sorting out the finances are non-existent as there are other potential avenues, but the outcome will most likely be different than had they gone through a civil ceremony.

If you are considering a religious marriage or have had one and need advice on your financial claims, then please contact Sahil Aggarwal at Moore Blatch on 0208 332 8675.


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