When is a Marriage not a Marriage?

An Islamic marriage, or Nikah, was a non-marriage and invalid under UK law, the Court of Appeal decided in the case of Her Majesty’s Attorney General v Akhter and Khan [2020]. It meant the “wife” could not make a financial claim. Furthermore, there was no ceremony for which a decree of nullity in annulment could be granted.

The Nikah had taken place in a restaurant in 1998. Though the parties intended to have a civil marriage ceremony it never actually took place, even though they both knew this was necessary to comply with the legal formalities in the UK.

The wife petitioned for divorce in 2016 relying on the presumption of marriage or, alternatively, seeking an annulment. She failed on both counts.

The Court of Appeal gave a useful analysis of the legal framework and concluded that in this case, it was a “non-qualifying ceremony” under the Marriage Act 1949 and Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Neither was it a void marriage. The Court made it clear that whether a ceremony created a valid marriage or a void marriage, or was of no legal effect at all, must be determined at the date of the ceremony.

The Court of Appeal also added that the interests of children play no part in determining whether or not a ceremony is a non-qualifying ceremony or a void marriage.


For further information on family law or divorce why not contact one of Alexander JLO’s expert lawyers and see what we can do for you?

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