Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa: N.C. Appellate Court Refuses to Recognize an American, Islamic Divorce

Last week, the North Carolina Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, handed down a decision refusing to recognize an Islamic, religious divorce conducted in Maryland. The Court emphasized that the parties’ Muslim marriage, without a Maryland Marriage License, was voidable and could only be dissolved by a court of law. This may be your first time hearing about this case, but it certainly won’t be your last!

No. COA11-209

In early 1997, defendant/wife married husband #1 in an Islamic ceremony held in Maryland; however, neither party obtained a Marriage License as required under Maryland law. Wife and husband #1 lived together in Maryland, but they never consummated the marriage. Shortly thereafter, wife obtained a religious divorce from husband #1 and returned to North Carolina.

That same year, wife met plaintiff/husband #2. After they obtained a marriage license, they were married on November 27, 1997. The couple had three children together and remained married for twelve years. On December 4, 2008, wife filed for divorce from husband #2.  The Trial Court granted her child support and spousal support. On December 3, 2009, husband #2 filed for an annulment based on bigamy, alleging his marriage to defendant was void because defendant/wife had never secured a civil divorce from husband #1. In response, defendant/wife filed a motion to dismiss the husband’s annulment request. The Court dismissed the husband’s request for an annulment, holding that the defendant/wife was never legally married to husband #1. Plaintiff/husband #2 appealed.

Whether a religious dissolution of a religious marriage was a valid dissolution of marriage to defeat a claim of bigamy.

The Court of Appeals reversed the lower Court’s decision, holding that the wife’s marriage to husband #1 was voidable because the parties did not obtain a Marriage License; thus, said voidable marriage subsisted until it would be dissolved by a court of law, which was not the case here. Therefore, wife’s marriage to husband #2 was void.


9 responses to “Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa: N.C. Appellate Court Refuses to Recognize an American, Islamic Divorce

  1. I really like that one. Keep up the good work on your blog.

  2. How horrible for these children to find out that after all these years their parents are not married. Had these facts been in Texas the second marriage would be a common law marriage. The first marriage would have been disposed of as well–a common law marriage ‘ends’ when the parties have been separated for two years and the elements of a common law marriage no longer exist. i agree that this will not be the last we hear of this case.


  4. This falilure in my opinion lies directly with the state of North Carolina due its lack of integrating Islamic marraiges laws. It is not that easy to get a muslim marrige in America because of the different laws governing what constitute a legal marriage when different religious groups are concerned.

  5. I’m not sure I understand. If the marriage was never sanctioned by the state, why would it have to be annulled by the state?

  6. I agree with abushri. I caught that one right away. A marriage without a marriage license is not valid. Therefore, why is a “legal” divorce or annulment required to dissolve a marriage that is not a marriage?

    Susan, you are right about common law marriage solving this problem. But even without it, this woman could have gotten Social Security benefits from husband #2 (because she stuck it out with him for 10+ years) if this very strange ruling had not undermined her position and stolen her benefits from her (which I’m sure made husband #2 quite happy).

    In marriage #1, there was no license, the marriage was never consummated, and both marriage and divorce were religious only. In the eyes of the state, neither (a) the marriage nor (b) the divorce should have been recognized. The lower court was correct in its interpretation of the facts.

    In marriage #2, there was a license, so it was a valid marriage in the eyes of the state.

    The correct characterization of marriage #1 is “void,” not “voidable.” The Court of Appeals erred in its slick use of the word “voidable,” by which it sidestepped the invalidity of marriage #1. For it to say that (a) an invalid marriage “can be dissolved/voided” because it was improper and void to begin with, and then to rule that (b) an actual legal divorce was required for an invalid marriage seems to me to be the height of legal malfeasance.

    I emphasize: it is not necessary to legally void (by divorce) something that is already legally void (marriage #1).

    The opinion of the Court of Appeals needs to be struck down because it upheld Sharia law. It upheld husband #2’s assertion that the religious Sharia marriage #1 was valid even though there was no marriage license for it. This is a blatant example of stealth jihad in the American court system. Who was the judge who wrote this opinion?

    The wife should go, or should have gone, all the way to the Supreme Court with this one.

  7. I looked further, and found the case. The first page has the one paragraph statement by Judge Bryant, who said marriage #1 was “merely voidable” until legally annulled by a proper tribunal. He cites the lack of “authority” for equating a religious divorce to be the same as a civil divorce. That’s why he ruled that Mrs. Palmer-Mussa was a bigamist and marriage #2 was void.

    I still think something is wrong when a religious marriage is upheld (even if brief and not consummated) and a religious divorce is not. Isn’t that a bit schizophrenic?

  8. And, BTW, I’d like to add that the title of this webpage is skewed in the wrong direction. Instead of trumpeting that NC refused to recognize a divorce under Sharia law, it should instead read;

    “Mussa v. Palmer-Mussa: N.C. Appellate Court Recognizes Marriage Under Islamic Sharia Law”

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