ZAWAHIRI v. ALWATTAR
In 2006, the parties were married and entered into a Muslim Marriage Contract, which contained a mahr provision. A Muslim religious cleric, or Imam, solemnized their marriage and the parties executed the Contract before two witnesses. The mahr was divided into two parts: (1) requiring the husband to make an immediate payment of a ring and certain gold; and (2) deferring the payment of $25,000 to a later date.
The husband filed for divorce and the wife countered, seeking enforcement of the $25,000 postponed portion in her Muslim Marriage Contract. The Trial Court refused to enforce the Contract on two grounds: (1) the separation of church and state; and (2) the Muslim Marriage Contract was an invalid prenuptial agreement under Ohio law.
Whether an Islamic Marriage Contract is enforceable as a prenuptial agreement where the husband was pressured into signing the mahr provision of the Contract and did not have an attorney present.
On appeal, the Court affirmed the Trial Court’s decision, holding that the prenuptial agreement is invalid under Ohio law. An Ohio court will enforce a prenuptial agreement if three conditions are met: “(1) the parties entered into it freely without fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching; (2) there was full disclosure, or full knowledge and understanding of the nature, value, and extent of the prospective spouse’s property; and (3) the terms do not promote or encourage divorce or profiteering by divorce.”
The Appellate Court found that the first condition was lacking, as the husband entered into the Marriage Contract as a result of overreaching or coercion by his wife. There were two reasons for the Court’s findings. First, the Imam had raised the issue of including a mahr provision in the Islamic Marriage Contract only two hours prior to the beginning of the ceremony for which family and guests were already present. The husband agreed to a postponed mahr of $25,000 because he was embarrassed and stressed. Second, the husband did not consult with an attorney prior to signing the Contract. The Court found that these particular facts demonstrated overreaching and coercion.
For the first time on appeal, the wife raised the argument that her Islamic Marriage Contract was not a prenuptial agreement, but simply a general contract. Because she failed to raise that argument at the trial level, she had waived her right to raise that argument on appeal, and the Court refused to consider her new argument.