Many don’t actually know whether an Islamic marriage is in fact recognised in the UK, even those in such marriages.
The answer is dependent on some additional factors. If you have had your Islamic marriage, known as Nikah, in the UK, and you didn’t also have a civil marriage, your marriage is not recognised under UK law. Only if you also had a civil marriage and you were properly registered to be married will your marriage be recognised by the law. This may sound unnecessary, but it’s really important. If you are not married under law you do not enjoy the same benefits a married couple would. Your Islamic marriage is recognised under UK law only when you got married in a country where your marriage was legally recognised under law, such as in Saudi Arabia, before moving to the UK.
Why being legally married is important
If you are not legally married, you may find yourself in a difficult situation if you were to get divorced or if one partner passes away.
Under the law you are recognised as a cohabiting couple, which means your finances and assets aren’t shared. If you and your spouse bought a house together, but only one of you is on the title deeds, the other has no rights to the property whatsoever. You can only retain that what you can prove was yours to begin with, which can cause serious problems especially when partners have been together for a longer period of time. For example, where one spouse has stayed home to look after children while the other worked, the spouse that stayed home will be left with nothing, and with no legal right to claim any of the shared assets that were purchased together.
In the unfortunate event of death, the spouses will also find difficulty. Where a spouse passes away the remaining spouse may not be able to inherit anything, unless a valid will is in place. An unmarried partner might be forced to leave the family home and lose all the assets that were shared, but in the other partners name.
Co-Habitation Agreements Instead of Civil Marriage
You may not want to undergo a civil marriage; in which case you could opt for a co-habitation agreement instead.
A cohabitation agreement is a legal document that would need to be signed by both partners who are living together, either unmarried or in a Nikah, in order to enjoy similar rights to spouses in a civil marriage.
Within this cohabitation agreement both partners agree what should happen if they broke up in the future. You should also ensure that each partner has a legal will in place and that this is updated regularly.
There could be clauses included in the agreement which outline exactly what each person would be entitled to in the event of divorce. For example, who gets the family home, what child maintenance agreements should look like, who pays outstanding debt and how other assets are divided.
You can benefit from a co-habitation agreement if your marriage is not legally recognised.
Getting divorced in the UK if you had your Nikah overseas
If you had your Nikah in a country where its recognised by law and you wish to divorce after you move to the UK, you will have to undergo a civil divorce in addition to your Islamic divorce.
If you were married under Sharia law in another country, and you then had a Khula, Faskh or Talaq to secure your divorce in this same country you won’t need to get a civil divorce in the UK. If you moved to the UK and then had your Sharia divorce you must also have a civil divorce.
Khula, Faskh or Talaq?
If the husband initiates the divorce the process to follow is called ‘Talaq’. If the wife initiates the divorce and the husband agrees to grant the divorce you can get a Khula. If the does not agree to grant the divorce you may need a Faskh.
All financial and other relevant legal matters should be handled by your family law solicitor during the civil divorce process. Sharia courts do not have any legal jurisdiction to enforce their ruling on factors related to financial agreements, children and other legal matters.