As part of our mission to educate our blog followers about shari’a and its role in American courts, we plan to blog about cases that appear in our digest. The first case we will blog about is a fascinating conflict of laws matter involving the validity of a Muslim marriage contracted in New Jersey.
IN RE FARRAJ
72 A.D.3d 1082, 900 N.Y.S.2d 340
N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., 2010
The parties married on May 2, 2003 and executed an Islamic Marriage Contract. The husband resided in New York and the wife resided in New Jersey. The husband traveled from New York to the wife’s family home in New Jersey to participate in the marriage ceremony. An Imam from New York solemnized the marriage before two witnesses. The parties thereafter lived as husband and wife in New York. They did not obtain a marriage license prior to solemnizing their marriage. The husband was previously married and has five, adult children. On July 14, 2007, the husband died intestate. The husband’s son was issued the estate’s Letter’s of Administration and the wife petitioned the Court for an accounting of her late husband’s estate. The husband’s son challenged this accounting on the grounds that she was never legally married to his father. The court ruled in the wife’s favor and the husband’s son appealed the decision.
Which state’s law governs the validity of a marriage – the state in which the marriage ceremony took place or the state of the marital domicile?
Under New Jersey law, a marriage without a marriage license would be void. Under New York law, a marriage without a marriage license would be voidable. The issue turned on which law governed the validity of the marriage.
The Appellate Court affirmed the Surrogate Court’s decision, holding that the marriage was valid under New York law. The court based its decision on §283 of the Restatement (Second) Conflict of Laws. The Restatement provides that “[t]he validity of a marriage will be determined by the local law of the state which, with respect to the particular issue, has the most significant relationship to the spouses and the marriage.” Here, the parties (1) intended that New York be the marriage domicile; (2) held themselves out to be married in New York; and (3) lived in New York while married. The only reason the marriage ceremony occurred in New Jersey was because the bride’s eldest male relative, who is required to perform the marriage ceremony under Islamic law, lived in New Jersey. The parties left New Jersey immediately after the marriage ceremony. Thus, New York has a stronger interest in the marriage than New Jersey.
Since New York law applies in this case, the Court affirmed the Surrogate Court’s decision to grant the wife accounting of her late husband’s estate.