Prior to the recent case, those that had a religious ceremony in front of friends and family, such as an Islamic ceremony (a Nikah), but failed to formalise their marriage with a Civil Ceremony would be treated under English law as non-married.  They may have been accepted by their family and their community as being married, lived together as man and wife and possibly had children but their failure to formalise their marriage under English law meant that they could not seek relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act.  

The only remedies available to such couples when their relationship breaks down are found in Property Law under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act and the Children Act.  Whereas couples that had complied with the legal requirements of marriage are able to seek relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 under which orders that are available include orders for transfer of land, lump sum payments, spousal maintenance and pension sharing orders.  The relief can be substantially different.

The recent case was concerned about not whether the Islamic marriage ceremony created a legal marriage in England and Wales but whether the ceremony created an invalid or void marriage in English law which would then allow the parties to seek relief under the Matrimonial Causes Act.

The Court found that the parties had intended to undergo a civil ceremony which was to follow shortly after the Nikah ceremony and the failure to complete the marriage process was down to the husband’s refusal after the Nikah ceremony to complete the marriage process.  The nature of the ceremony which the parties underwent bore all the hallmarks of a marriage in that it was held in public, witnessed, officiated by an Imam (Islamic leader), involved the making of promises and confirmation that both the husband and wife were eligible to marry and thereafter the parties lives as a married couple for all purposes.  The Court determined that the marriage was a void marriage and the wife was entitled to a decree of nullity and therefore able to seek remedies under the Matrimonial Causes Act.

If you would like advice on this or any other family matter, please contact Jane Chandler, Associate Solicitor on 0121 685 8126 or