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Alimony and property division in Muslim divorces

Spokane residents considering divorce likely understand that many difficult and challenging decisions accompany a dissolution of marriage. Recently, news reports have brought attention to the complexities of Muslim divorces in U.S. court systems. Courts have had difficulty knowing how to apply state law and how to deal with Islamic law, Shariah, in divorce cases involving Muslims.

One recent case involves a woman who claimed she married a man according to Islamic law in West Africa, while the man insisted that there was no marriage. As a result, a judge was left to decide whether a legal marriage existed. The ramifications of the judge's decision were critical, in that it would greatly impact the woman's future.

If the judge ruled there was a valid marriage, a divorce could be granted and the woman would then receive alimony in addition to her share of marital assets. If there was no legal marriage determined, the woman would be left without a share of assets or alimony. In determining whether a valid marriage existed, a judge may wish to consider the laws of Shariah, as well as consult Islamic legal experts.

Politicians on both the state and national level have sought to prohibit American judges from considering Shariah. Thus far, six states have successfully prohibited judges from considering foreign laws, though Washington state is not among them.

While the majority of spousal support decisions do not involve complicated questions of religion and international considerations, this is a very important issue for many people. If judges in the U.S. are prohibited from considering foreign law when dissolving marriages that took place in other countries, it may be difficult to provide equitable rulings in these cases. However, it is also important for the jurisdiction of the U.S. family law courts to remain recognized.

Source: Washington Post, "Shariah or not, Muslim divorces can get tricky," Omar Sacirbey, Oct. 1, 2012

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