Divorce and Sharia Law in North Carolina

According to a recent article in the Beaufort Observer, the North Carolina Court of Appeals this week handed down a somewhat surprising decision concerning Islamic Sharia Law. The Court of Appeals decided to grant an annulment to a man on the grounds of bigamy. The husband argued that his marriage of 12 years (and resulting in three children) was null and void because the wife was previously been married according to Sharia Law and that earlier marriage was never properly dissolved.

The North Carolina Court held that the wife’s first marriage was legal despite there being no marriage certificate and it not being performed by an imam or other licensed minister. Because no legal process to void the first marriage was ever undertaken, the Islamic wedding ceremony was upheld as an official legal marriage. Because the first marriage was deemed legal, the wife was already married when she met her second husband and that second marriage thus became null and void.

The decision was a split 2-1 decision which means it is appealable to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The woman in question is looking for assistance finding an attorney because she cannot afford to appeal at the moment.

The recent decision is both interesting and important. The decision upheld Sharia Law by legitimizing an Islamic marriage ceremony that was nothing more than one man pronouncing two individuals husband and wife. No marriage license was involved, no official minister. Yet the actions were condoned by the North Carolina Court of Appeals when they upheld the validity of the first marriage by granting an annulment for the second.

The wife in the case argued that she was divorced when she entered into her second marriage because she had complied with Islamic law for dissolving a marriage. Bizarrely, the Court of Appeals rejected this argument (the exact one they accepted from the husband). On one hand, the Court decided to enforce a religiously-based marriage that did not meet the legal requirements of marriage, while on the other hand the Court refused to accept the religiously-based divorce, instead requiring a civil termination.

The important issue that the case highlights is what exactly constitutes a legal marriage. The decision could lead to a slippery slope by validating a marriage created under a belief system but not in accordance with legal requirements. It’s surprising that the statutory requirements for marriage took a back seat to the ceremonial religious components. If you have a similarly complicated potential divorce case then it’s critical that you have a skilled Charlotte family law attorney on your side. Please do not hesitate to call (704) 370-2828 for a consultation today.

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