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!
MUSSA v. PALMER-MUSSA
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.