ELLEHAF v. TARRAF
No. 257222

FACTS
The parties were married in an Islamic ceremony in Michigan without obtaining a marriage license. The husband filed a complaint seeking custody of their children and a declaratory judgment that the parties were never legally married. The Trial Court ruled in his favor. The wife appealed, arguing that they were legally married despite not having a marriage license because she had registered the marriage in Lebanon. Additionally, the wife argues that the marriage is valid because she substantially complied with Michigan’s statutory requirements.

ISSUES
Whether a marriage is valid where the parties did not obtain a marriage license, the wife registered the marriage in another country after the husband has religiously divorced her twice and the wife did not hold herself out as being married to the husband.

RULING
The Appellate Court affirmed the Trial Court’s decision, holding that the parties were never legally married because they did not obtain a marriage license. Under Michigan law, a valid marriage requires that the parties obtain a marriage license prior to the ceremony. Here, the parties failed to obtain a marriage license. Therefore, their marriage was invalid.

The Court noted that the wife’s unilateral registration of the marriage in Lebanon did not validate the marriage in Michigan for two reasons: (1) the wife registered the marriage after the husband had already divorced her twice under Islamic law; and (2) the wife possibly registered the marriage after the husband had legally married another woman in Michigan (court records are unclear as to whether the wife registered the marriage shortly before or after the husband legally married). Moreover, the Court noted that the wife did not hold herself out to the public as being married to the husband and the wife was knowledgeable of the differences between a legal marriage and a religious marriage, as she had been married legally before.

The wife also argued that the marriage was valid because she substantially complied with Michigan’s statutory requirements by having the Secretary of State validate the Lebanese marriage certificate. However, the Court disagreed, using a strict interpretation of the law: “The plain language of MCL 551.2 says that the statutory requirements must be met to form a legal marriage in the State of Michigan, and it does not include an exception for substantial compliance.”

Thus, since the marriage was invalid in Michigan “[a] relationship that does not meet the statutory requirements for a legal marriage does not give rise to property rights, personal rights, or rights to support.”

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