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Islamic instant divorce ruled ‘not legal’

Islamic instant divorce ruled ‘not legal’ under EU law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) have today issued a landmark ruling stating that EU countries do not need to legally recognise divorces not granted by a state court.

The ruling:

The ruling comes following a case involving a couple who married in 1999 in Syria, before moving to live in Germany. In 2013 the husband ended the marriage in a Sharia court by relying on an instant divorce, having his representative repeat ‘talaq’ three times. Although the wife acknowledged the divorce in writing, she then contested its validity after her husband applied for the divorce to be legally recognised in Germany.

Unsure how to apply the Rome III Regulation, the German Court referred the case to the ECJ asking for clarification. The Rome III Regulation, also referred to as the EU divorce law pact, enables two couples from two different countries to agree in advance which law should apply in the event of their divorce. However, the ECJ stated that the regulation ‘does not apply by itself, to the recognition of a divorce decision delivered in a third county,’ and a declaration of divorce before a religious court does not fall within the scope of the regulation. Branding the instant divorce as a ‘private divorce’ measure due to lack of state authority involvement, the divorce was found not to be legal and it was held that the dispute must be resolved under German law.

This is a landmark judgement confirming that European Union countries need not legally recognise divorces not granted by a state court and is the first time the ECJ have ever made a ruling on this subject. So, what exactly is instant divorce?

What is instant divorce?:

Instant divorce or ‘triple talaq’ is the practice by which Muslim men can divorce their wives by simply uttering ‘talaq,’ (I divorce you) three times. This can be issued to their wives by letter, telephone, text and increasingly via social media or messaging services such as WhatsApp/Skype. Although instant divorces are not explicit in Islam’s Sharia Law or in the Koran, it has been practised for decades.

The majority of Muslim countries have now banned instant divorce but in some countries, such as India where there is not a structured approach to divorce that applies to every citizen like the divorce process in the UK, it has been practiced. However, a bill proposed to jail men in India who indulge in the controversial practice has been backed by the Indian cabinet, so this may soon change.

What does the ruling mean?:

Although the implications of this judgement are yet to be seen in practice, effectively, anybody who has been divorced by instant divorce are unlikely to have their divorce recognised in the eyes of the law in the UK or any other European Union country. The outcome of our impending departure from the European Union may impact on this ruling further and we will certainly be keen to see what the future holds.

If you have any family law questions and need advice from a specialist, experienced and recommended family solicitor please email: kathryn.wilson@family-law.co.uk or telephone:

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