Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

Is A Muslim Religious “Wedding” Considered A Legal Wedding In New Jersey?

No.  Pursuant to this lawyer’s review of New Jersey case law , it is my legal opinion that this would not be deemed a legal marriage. Under N.J.S.A § 37:1-1, a marriage performed without first getting a marriage license, is considered completely void. Furthermore, Pakistani family law also requires that the marriage contract be recorded with the local municipal authorities.  Please find the confidential inter-office memo prepared for the attorney’s at our New Jersey family law and divorce law firm. 

In a recent case at our law firm, our client asked if he was legally married if he merely had a religious ceremony in front of a few relatives, in Pakistan, and signed a religious wedding contract, but never obtained a marriage license.

Analysis: New Jersey Statute § 37:1-10 abolishes common law and unlicensed marriages. See Yaghoubinejad v. Haghighi, 384 N.J. Super. 339, 341 (2006). (Where a ceremonial marriage in accordance with the religion of Islam was conducted on June 30, 2001 was considered completely void, even though a certificate appeared to show the signature of the person who solemnized the marriage, because the parties failed to obtain a marriage license). While Islamic marriage contracts were found to be enforceable by the court as long as the contract could be enforced on “neutral principles of law,” in Odatalla v. Odatalla, the opinion never stated that the parties failed to get a marriage license. N.J.S.A § 37:1-10 provides that, no marriage contracted on or after December 1, 1939 is valid unless the contracting parties obtained a marriage license, and then performed, by or before any person, religious society, institution or organization authorized by Section 13 of the same statute, to solemnize marriages. Moreover, a failure in any case to comply with both of the prerequisites, will render the supposed marriage completely void. N.J.S.A § 37:1-10.

The effect of N.J.S.A § 37:1-10 is three-fold: (1) it completely abolishes the validity of common law marriages after 1939; (2) requires the production of a marriage license before a ceremony; and (3) requires an authorized person or entity to solemnize the marriage. Yaghoubinejad v. Haghighi, at 341. See also Lee v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., 337 N.J. Super. 509, 514, (App. Div. 2001) (ceremonial marriage without a license is void). Cf. Lopez v. Lopez, 102 N.J. Super. 253, 255-56, (Ch. Div. 1968) (marriage by proxy void due to absence of a valid license and solemnization). But see Torres v. Torres, 144 N.J. Super. 540, 543 (Ch. Div. 1976) (proxy marriage not void when entered in accordance with law of country where the contract was executed).

In Torres v. Torres, the the marriage in question took place on October 28, 1967, a country that recognized a proxy marriage as a valid ceremony of marriage. The husband had complied with all the necessary legal requirements of the Cuban statute. The marriage was recorded by the proper legal authorities in Havana, Cuba. Furthermore, a certificate of marriage was issued by the Registrar of Vital Statistics in Havana, Cuba. 144 N.J. Super. 540, 543. Even though the court in Torres, refused to set aside the marriage it is important to note that there was no dispute that the marriage had been properly licensed in the Country in which it took place. However, in some countries a marriage be be legally valid even without a license. That does not mean, however, that the Court must consider it valid.

In B-Aka-L . L, the Superior Court annulled a marriage that took place in a church in Italy. N.J. Super. 368. The plaintiff was born on October 1, 1941 in Italy, and moved to Jersey City in 1954. Id. at 371. She returned to Italy with her mother in December of 1965. Her mother then introduced her to the defendant in 1957. They had a religious ceremony on October 31, 1957. She lived with the defendant for 5 weeks, but the plaintiff alleged that the marriage was never consummated. Id. The court held that a marriage arranged by a mother for her daughter to a man in a foreign country who did nothing to enforce his rights as a husband over two years, did not send her anything to enable her to return to him, and only came into court by an attorney when his wife sought to annul the marriage, that this marriage was one for his convenience and should be annulled. Id. at 373. While the defendant had argued that as the marriage was valid under Italian laws, it should also be considered valid here. Id. at 372. The court, however, found that it was appropriate, under its equitable powers to annul it. Id. at 373

In the 1932 case of Sturm v. Sturm, the Court held that “that general rule of law is that a marriage valid where it is performed is valid everywhere,” and “a marriage void where it is performed is void everywhere. 111 N.J. Eq. 579, 582 (1932). While this case is from 1932, I did not find any negative treatment when I shepardized the case. Pakistani family law requires marriage contracts to be recorded with the proper municipal authority. If, in the present case, the couple failed to register the marriage contract in Pakistan, it may be considered void there. A “nikah nama” another word for an Islamic  marriage certificate or contract, is issued by a Nikah Registrar, or marriage registrar in Pakistan. Marriage registrars are appointed by the municipality, Panchayat Committee, Cantonment Board or Union Council. The Union Council is located in every municipality. The Pakistan Jurist, a website created by Pakistani legal firm AHS - Advocates & Legal Consultants, explains that a Nikah Nama is a “legal document certifying the solemnization of marriage between a husband and a wife”. The Pakistan Jurist points out that, according to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, which applies to all Muslim Pakistani citizens, a Nikah Nama must be registered with a local Union Council, where an original copy of Nikah Nama is kept as public record.

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