Muslims up and down the country have expressed their support for the Court of Appeal decision by Lord Justice Ward that a Husband’s belief that maintenance payments to his former Wife were “illegitimate or illegal according to Islamic culture” is not a defence to Orders made in English Divorce Courts.
Dr Zaid Al-Saffar, a consultant Rheumatologist at Scarborough Hospital, North Yorkshire and his wife Hannan Al-Saffar were married in 2000. They have two children and separated in 2008. Dr Al-Saffar was ordered by Blackburn County Court to pay £60,000 to his wife as maintenance. He failed to comply and held as his defence that in traditional Muslim societies a divorced wife will be supported by her extended family and that there is no obligation on him as the former husband to pay maintenance. The net effect of Dr Al-Saffar’s non-payment is that he would have kept the total capital in the Marital Home and his former wife would not have received any of it. He was ordered to resume the monthly repayments and pay the arrears as a lump sum.
Different Islamic schools of thought and a commonly held belief that Muslim women are not entitled to spousal maintenance after divorce has often caused confusion in the Muslim community. Just as in English law, Islamic Law also provides that the needs of the spouse and the children of the family are to be met. A Muslim couple, if they both consent are entitled to enter into a settlement based on Islamic principles. The objective to achieve a fair settlement will depend on the individuals circumstances and their financial position and situation overall. Separated couples are able to settle their divorce with the assistance of the Shariah Council. However, in order for it to be binding and enforceable under English law, a Judge will need to decide whether the arrangement is fair and reasonable and ensure that neither party is disadvantaged, and it is always advisable to take legal advice about this.