World Religion Day falls annually on the third Sunday of January. In anticipation of World Religion Day 2024, family solicitor Chloe Lines explores a question that our family department are frequently asked. This question relates to religious wedding ceremonies and more specifically whether a religious ceremony is recognised as a legal marriage in our jurisdiction of England and Wales. We will use the Nikah as an example to explore this issue as the answer is not as straightforward as some people may think.
The Nikah Ceremony: Religious Significance vs Legal Recognition
A Nikah is the religious ceremony that many Muslims across the world go through to show their commitment to their partner. Whilst under Islamic / Sharia law, the Nikah is recognised as a binding contact of marriage, it is essential to be aware that this may not be the case within our jurisdiction.
Legal Implications of Nikah in England and Wales
Chloe explains that the location of a Nikah is crucial in determining whether the same will be recognised as a legal marriage within the courts of England and Wales. If a couple go through a Nikah only in the UK, then this will not be recognised as a legal marriage in our jurisdiction. This is because English law considers a Nikah to be a religious ceremony only and not a legal marriage. The couple will therefore be classed as cohabitees rather than a married couple. For a couple to be afforded matrimonial rights under English law, in addition to the Nikah they must go through a supplementary civil ceremony. Only if a couple has both the Nikah and a civil ceremony will their marriage be recognised as legally binding by our courts.
International Recognition and Its Impact
If, however, a couple has a Nikah abroad in a country that recognises Islamic / Sharia law as legally binding in that country, then the courts in England and Wales will recognise the marriage as legally binding in our jurisdiction. This means that the rights offered to spouses under English matrimonial law will be extended to those couples who have had the Nikah in any country governed by Islamic / Sharia law.
Consequences of Legal Status: Spouses vs Cohabitees
But why is this such a big issue? Chloe explains that the legal protections offered to spouses and cohabitees vary significantly should the relationship, unfortunately, break down or one of the partners passes away. Spouses by virtue of being married become the other persons next of kin and also have a vast number of financial rights in respect of the other spouse. When you are not recognised as a spouse but instead as a cohabitee then you do not obtain these rights and it can be much harder for you to benefit should your partner pass away or the relationship comes to an end.
If you have had a religious marriage ceremony in either the UK or overseas and are unsure as to your position under English law, please do get in touch with our Family Law team on 0161 665 3502.