Although the UK Courts have no jurisdiction over religious marriages and divorces i.e. Islamic, Jewish or other religious marriages, the law recognises and has made provision for those seeking to obtain a religious divorce alongside the civil divorce proceedings. Section 10A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which came into force in 24 February 2003, prevents the Decree Absolute (the certificate which dissolves the civil marriage) from being granted until the religious divorce has been obtained.
In order for section 10A to apply a Decree Nisi (the first stage of the civil divorce) must have been granted by the Court. An application can then be made to the Court by either the husband or wife requesting that the Decree Nisi not be made Absolute until a declaration is made by both parties that they have taken steps as required to dissolve the marriage in accordance with their religious practice. The Act refers to ‘Jewish usages’ or ‘any other prescribed religious usages’. The Court can make an order that the civil divorce essentially be put on hold until the religious divorce is finalised.
The order as mentioned above will only be made if the Court is satisfied that to make an order would be just and reasonable to do so. Many would consider it equally as important to have a religious divorce as it is to have a civil one. The civil divorce ends your marriage and your financial relationship as husband and wife. If the religious divorce is not granted then there can be cultural and religious stigma for at least one of the parties, without them having the security of a civil marriage and the benefits that brings.
The declaration referred to above that both parties must make to demonstrate to the Court that they have taken steps to dissolve their marriage within the remit of their religion needs to be in a specified form with the necessary supporting documents. Once the Court is satisfied of this, only then will the civil divorce be made Absolute.
The Sharia Council (a British organisation that provides legal rulings and advice to Muslims) assists married couples who experience difficulty in obtaining a ‘talaq’, the Arabic term for divorce. There is a document produced at the end of the process which is evidence of the divorce and certifies that the couple are Islamically divorced.
Similarly, for Jewish married couples to obtain a religious divorce, known as the ‘Get’, they would need to make an application to the Beth Din (Rabbinical tribunal) to process and finalise the divorce. Once the Beth Din is satisfied that both the husband and wife consent to the divorce a formal document is produced to confirm such. These documents can be used as evidence supporting the declaration that sufficient steps have been taken to dissolve the marriage so that both parties can move ahead with both their religious and civil divorce.
Laura Dand (Solicitor) and Thomas Brownrigg (Solicitor)
Saleha Bibi (Paralegal)