AGHILI v. SAADATNEJADI
958 S.W.2d784 (Tenn.App.,1997)

FACTS
The parties obtained a marriage license and were married by Mr. Tarahian, an individual knowledgeable in Islamic Law. The parties signed the marriage license but Mr. Tarahian did not sign it. In May 4, 1995, the husband filed for divorce or an annulment and the wife counterclaimed for divorce on the basis of fraud or misrepresentation. The husband moved for summary judgment, arguing that “the marriage was invalid because Mr. Tarahian was not qualified to solemnize marriages and because the marriage license had not been returned to the Rutherford County Clerk within three days following the December 17, 1994 ceremony.” The trial awarded summary judgment to the husband. The wife appealed the decision.

ISSUE
Whether a marriage is invalid where the officiant was not an official of a religious institution and the marriage license was not filed within the time prescribed by law.

RULING
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that Mr. Tarahian was authorized to solemnize the marriage and his failure to return the marriage license within three days of the ceremony did not invalidate the marriage. Tennessee law presumes all marriages to be valid unless cogent and convincing evidence is provided to prove the marriage is invalid.

The court noted that Islamic law only requires the officiant to be knowledgeable in Islamic law and does not need to hold the title of Imam for the marriage to be valid.  The court found Mr. Tarahian to be knowledgeable in Islamic jurisprudence as the Muslim community recognizes his competence. Since Mr. Tarahian is knowledgeable in Islamic law, he was authorized to solemnize the marriage.

Additionally, the court noted that as long as the officiant is authorized to solemnize the marriage, “[t]he failure of an officiant to return the marriage license to the issuing clerk within three days after the ceremony does not invalidate the marriage.” Moreover, the court stated that the purpose of the filing requirement was fulfilled, as Mr. Taharian’s filing of the marriage license in February provided a reliable and accurate record of the marriage.

Since the husband was unable to provide cogent and convincing evidence that the marriage was invalid, the appellate court held the marriage to be valid.

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