As we have discussed before in this blog, religious marriage rituals and ceremonies are a separate thing from the requirements of New York State law. This is an example of the separation of Church and State; the government does not interfere with couple’s religious beliefs, but also requires all marrying couples to follow the same procedure in order to get their marriage legally recognized.
However, marriage laws in other countries are different, which can complicate matters when a couple married abroad gets divorced in New York. A recent court decision discussed in the New York Law Journal demonstrates this dilemma.
The couple was married in Egypt in 1977. In accordance with Muslim tradition, the husband signed a “mahr” a document that explained his responsibilities toward his wife. Instead of the wife signing the mahr, her uncle signed on her behalf. One of the terms of the mahr held that the wife would only receive $131 if the couple ever divorced.
The couple later moved the U.S., where the wife filed for divorce in August 2014. The husband argued that the mahr should act as a sort of prenuptial agreement when it came to dividing the martial property.
Recently, the Supreme Court justice presiding over the case ruled against the husband. He found that because the wife never personally signed or acknowledged the mahr, and because the husband could not otherwise present authentication as required under international law, New York law could not recognize the mahr as a valid marriage contract.
Besides that, it is not in the parties’ interests to pursue the “de minimis benefit” of $131 to the wife, the judge ruled.