Marrying Your Mother-in-Law – Cultural Divorce Part VIII is part of Abbas Hadjian’s CULTURALLY SPEAKING series published in The Daily Journal.
Can I marry my mother-in-law?
The other day I received a call from an Iranian client. He asked: “Can I marry my mother-in-law?” The answer is short and relatively simple under Iranian law and many other Islamic (and non-Islamic countries), i.e., No.
But not in California.
Marriage in Iran creates a zone of privacy around the blood relatives and in-laws of the married persons, called حریم (harim). It forbids marriage to the parents of an ex-spouse (by decree or death) forever. In California, strange as it may sound, the Family Code does not create such a zone of privacy and prohibition; therefore, the in-laws may get married. Under California law, incestuous marriage is limited to blood-related parents and children and for the siblings, full or half-blood. So, under California law, to the question, “Can I marry my Mother-in-law?” I answered,
“Yes, you may marry your mother-in-law but don’t disclose it out of the state. It may be a crime elsewhere.”
Marrying your mother-in-law is not a crime in California.
Question and Answer: Rights and Duties in Incomplete Marriages: Unregistered Iranian Marriages, Unlicensed Religious Marriages in California, Immigration Divorce Without Remarriage, Divorce and Probate Consequences
Friday Noon with Abbas Hadjian, Esq. on KIRN: Feb 20, 2015
Right of Spouse in Premarital House, Change of Title, With or Without Loan Q&A: Right of Defendant to continue Ex-Parte Request for Temporary Restraining Order; Petition for Divorce from Iran: Effect of self-supporting Affidavit of Support for Green Card in California Divorce process..
In matters of child custody, child support and spousal support, Islamic nations apply civil and Islamic legal traditions differently
THERE ARE TWO SOURCES of Islamic law, or shari’a.
The first is the Koran and Hadith1 The other is the application of Ijma’a (consensus ), Qyias (comparison), and Aql (reason) to the source. After Muhammad’s death, two sects (Sunni and Shi’a) of Islam emerged. Sunni jurisprudence includes the Hanifi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools, and Shi’a jurisprudence includes the Zaidayyah, Jafari, and Isma’iliah schools. Different Islamic nations apply Islamic laws of custody, visitation, and child and spousal support differently, and the laws are changing.
Practitioners who work with Muslim clients can benefit from an understanding of how shari’a applies to family law issues, including child custody. Under shari’a, those who have custody of younger children are obliged to raise them as Muslims; give them religious, moral, and physical education; allow them access to good friends; and provide them financial support. This responsibility is held mostly by the mother, especially if the father remarries and the mother remains unmarried. However, fathers are in control of legal custody and may directly control the movement of their children (including change of residence, choice of employment, travel abroad, and obtaining a driver’s license or passport). Fathers also have indirect control the flow of financial support to mothers2.
Regarding physical custody, Koranic verses provide that mothers have custody of children during nursing and up to the age of two or two and a half. Verses also provide that fathers and mothers should consult each other in raising their children. Muhammad has been quoted as saying that divorced mothers who remain unmarried have a greater right to raising a child. Islamic jurisprudence differentiates between custody of male and female children. Under Shi’a law, custody typically reverts to father when boys reach the age of two, while for Sunnis the age limit is seven, at which time a boy may choose to remain with his mother or live with his father. With girls, Shi’a custody reverts to the father at the age of sexual maturity, while Sunni rules vary. They include leaving the decision to the girl, continuing custody with the mother, and reverting custody to the father. Sunnis and Shi’as also differ as to the age of termination of custody. Most traditions agree that upon sexual maturity, children should be given freedom of choice. Table 1 summarizes physical custody rules under five schools.
Table 1: Custody and Transfer in Five Islamic Schools of Law
School of Law
Next Eligible Custodian
Next Eligible Custodian
Next Eligible Custodian
Next Eligible Custodian
Boy: 7 Girl: 9, Marriage
Boy: Either parent Girl: Either parent
Maternal or paternal grandmother
Choice of either parent
Maternal or paternal grandmother
Boy: 15 Girl: Marriage
Maternal grandmother or Mother’s sister
Choice of either parent
Maternal or paternal grandmother
Boy: 2 Girl: 7
Boy: 15 Girl: 9
Choice of either parent
Paternal next in line
Notes: Mothers are granted physical custody of small children in most case, but custody transfers to the father at the ages shown on the Transfer Trigger column. In Islamic jurisprudence, a person’s age is calculated in Lunar year rather than Sonar year. To calculate age in lunar years, reduce the age in solar years by 8 percent or by a ratio of 336/365.
Mothers are often awarded custody of children up to age seven for boys and nine for girls. Exceptions include age two for boys under Ja’fari jurisprudence, and continuation of custody of girls by the mothers to the date of marriage in Maliki jurisprudence. Prior to the age at which custody transfers from the mother to the father, the physical or financial inability of a mother to provide for children , or her insanity or remarriage, disrupts a mother’s custody right and awards custody to the mother’s qualified next of kin, starting with the child ‘s father.
Whether paternal custody begins at two, seven, or nine, it may end at the age of puberty for boys or the first menstrual period for girls, when what is known as the age of discretion begins. At that age, children may decide who they would like to stay with, and the choice is not limited to a child’s parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles may be chosen. A religious judge make final decisions on custody disputes. This judge has broad discretion and may consider physical, mental, emotional, religious, financial, or any other relevant factors, including a child’s preference.
Under shari’a, the father is the head of the family and in charge of the children until termination of custody. The preference for granting physical custody to mothers during a child’s tender years do es not change this general rule. In addition, because mothers and fathers are mandated to raise their children as Muslims, a Muslim mother who converts to another religion is not permitted to keep custody of a Muslim child. Fathers must approve of their children’s education, including the places and types of schools attended and the type of education received. Although custodial mothers are restricted from remarrying, in some jurisdictions, a father’s petition for custody based on a mother’s remarriage may be waived if the petition is not raised in a timely manner. Employment of custodial mothers may be substantially curbed if the father disapproves. The father’s obligation to provide a suitable residence for his children limits the freedom of custodial mothers to change their residence or their children’s residence .
Only fathers can apply for their children’s passports, and in the majority of jurisdictions, children cannot leave a country without their father’s permission or a court order. In some jurisdictions, unpermitted foreign travel by a custodial mother is a crime. Financial guardianship is vested in fathers and grandfathers unless transferred by agreement or assigned by the court to mothers or third parries. Fathers are the recipients of a child’s earnings after divorce and are authorized to purchase, sell, encumber, and manage a child’s properties. This right is especially significant if children receive inheritances or gifts during the marriage. This rule also is relevant when children receive public assistance or private insurance benefits. For example, upon the death of a father, his children ‘s paternal grandfather may receive the death benefits, bur the children’s mother has the burden of physical and legal custody.
Table II: Age of Transfer of Custody, Discretion, Maturity and Marriage in 15 Islamic Countries
Notes: “BIC” indicates best interest of the child. “PUB” indicates puberty. 1 The age at which the custody right of the mother transfers to the father. 2 The age at which the child’s custody may be transferred from one parent to another, or to a qualified third party, based on the discretion of the child and the court. 3 The age at which children are recognized as adults. 4 The age at which children may marry without a court order. In many jurisdictions, age of marriage may be reduced by a year or two. Regardless of age, females cannot get married without the consent of a guardian, normally the father or other paternal next of kin.
Child Custody by Nation
Bangladesh Child Custody
The laws of Bangladesh, a former colony of England, show the influence of common law. The country’s marriage and family laws, however, are numerous, overlapping, inconsistent, and confusing. Simply making list offers an explanation: the Divorce Act of 1869; the Christi an Marriage Act of 1872; the Special Marriage Act of 1872 : the Married Women’s Property Act of 1874; the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1886; the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890; th e Foreign Marriage Act of 1903; the Anand Marriage Act of 1909; the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929; the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936; the Arya Marriage Validation Act of 1937; the Muslim Person al Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937; the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Acr of 1939: the Hindu Married Women ‘s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act of 1946; the Muslim family Laws Ordinance of 1961; the Public Servants Marriage with Foreign Nationals Ordinance of 1976; the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1980; and the Family Court Ordinance of 1985. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has assumed a very active role in modernizing Hanafi principles.
Divorcing couples are first directed to arbitration council before coming court. The court considers the child’s preference, welfare, education, and religion in us decision. The law considers the best interest of the child as the paramount factor and provides the courts with flexibility in awarding custody. A mother’s remarriage results in loss of custody. In Md. Abu Baker Siddique v. S.M.A. Bakar, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh granted custody of an eight-year-old boy to his mother, finding that the country’s custody rules were not based on the Koran or Hadith, No consensus has been established among Bangladeshi courts, however.
Indonesia Child Custody
A Dutch colony until 1945, Indonesia operates under civil law that was promulgated during the colonial period, Sources of law include Dutch law, customary law (known as adat, and Islamic law. The country has the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world, but Islam is not the official religion. Custody of children is subject to the nation’s civil code, which is influenced by Dutch law and Shafi’i jurisprudence. In the absence of parental agreement, a child ‘s custody muse be ordered by the court as part of a divorce decree. Custody of children under the age of 12 is awarded ro the mother, while the father has the responsibility to maintain the children. After 12, the children are free to choose to remain with their mother or go to their father; Remarriage of the mother is ground for loss of custody.
Iran Child Custody
Iran is the most populous Shi’a country. Iranian family law statutes include the Mar Iran is the most populous Shi’a country. Iranian family law statutes include the Marriage Act of Non-Shi’a Muslims of 1933, the Ordinance re Marriage of Iranian Women to Foreign Nationals of 1967, the Divorce Modification Ordinance of 1993, the Divorce Explanation Ordinance of 1994, the Family Courts Act of 1994, and the Ordinance of Marriage of Iranian Men to Foreign Nationals of 2003. The Iranian Civil Code of 1928-1935 was promulgated by a committee of Iranian jurists with backgrounds in the civil law of France, Belgium, and Switzerland. These jurists, with the assistance of Shi’a scholars, incorporated the general principles of Islamic marriage, divorce, paternity, guardianship, and probate law into the civil code, leaving many details to the discretion of courts.
Iranian civil law provided priority in custody to the mother of male children up to the age of two and female children to the age of seven but allowed the court to disregard these age limits based on best-interest principles. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and a change from monarchy to governance of Islamic scholars, Islamic criminal law was incorporated in the Iranian legal system, but the pre-revolutionary personal status law remained early intact, and to some extent liberalization and equalization of marital rights during and after the marriage were accepted.
In the aftermath of war between Iran and Iraq, the custodial rights of war widows were substantially expanded. In 2003, the age of custodial transfer for boys was raised to seven, at which time custody may revert to the father unless determined otherwise by the court. In making a ruling, the court must consider the child’s best interest. A family court may sanction a father’s violation of the custodial rights of a mother if he sends their children out of the country, but the court is not authorized to enjoin the child’s departure.
Morocco Child Custody
The family law of Morocco, a former colony of France, is influenced by the Napoleonic Code. Under the Moroccan constitution, Islam is the state religion. The Islamic provisions of the law are inspired by Maliki jurisprudence. The Personal Status Law was amended in 1992, 1993, and 2004 in order to increase gender equality. In the event of divorce, children up to the age of 15 stay with their mother, and thereafter may choose to stay with the mother or father. A custodian must be an adult of good character who is able to safeguard the health and moral education of the children and who is free from contagious diseases. Subject to conditions, children remain in the custody of their mother even if she remarries. The children always spend the night at the custodian’s house unless a judge decides otherwise. The court may resort to the assistance of a social worker to prepare a report on the custodian’s home and the extent to which it meets the material and moral needs of the children.
Saudi Arabia Child Custody
Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic country that does not have a promulgated family code. Religious courts follow Hanbali tradition to decide issues of custody. Mothers have custody of children to the age of seven. (On the other hand, Qatar, also a Hanbali jurisdiction, favors award of custody to the mother of sons up to the age 11 and daughters up to 13.) The mother must be an adult and of sound mind in order to be granted custody. The mother may lose custody if she remarries someone who is outside the prohibited degree of relationship to the children, or if she does not raise a Muslim child as a Muslim. The emphasis placed upon an Islamic upbringing in an Islamic environment makes it difficult for a non-Muslim or foreign mother to obtain custody of her Muslim children.
Visitation by Nation
The traditional views of right of access or visitation are reflected in a hadith that states, “If anyone separates a mother and her child, Allah will separate him and his loved ones on the Day of Resurrection.” Under various Shi’a and Sunni legal traditions, noncustodial parents enjoy the right of visitation, but length and frequency varies. Islamic privacy rules create a special problem regarding visitation. Under Islamic law, men and women belong to one of two groups: nonmarriageables and marriageables. Women and men who are nonmarriageables can freely visit in person, with or without others present, without hijab, and may travel together. This is not so with marriageables, which generally includes former spouses. Under these circumstances, visitation may violate privacy rules.
In Bangladesh, Sections 41-45 of the Divorce Act of 1869 provide the court with the jurisdiction to make pendente lite and postjudgment orders. The Guardians and Wards Act of 1890 applies to the issues of custody and visitation. The Muslim Family Law Ordinance of 1961 provides that disputes not resolved by arbitration will be decided by a court.
In Indonesia, the Civil Code of 1847 authorizes nonappealable pendente lite orders. Following the judgment granting divorce, the court determines the issue of visitation. The parent who has not been appointed guardian or who has been denied visitation may oppose the ruling and appeal. The court, upon showing change of circumstances, may amend its ruling.
The Iranian Civil Code provides for right of visitation of the child by the noncustodial parent, and, absent parental agreement, a court must provide for the time and place of visitation. Failure of a custodial parent to provide the child for visitation is an offense that may result in imprisonment until compliance. After reaching the age of discretion (15 for boys and 9 for girls, children cannot be forced to visit the noncustodial parent.
In Morocco, the 2004 Family Code dictates the visitation right of noncustodial parent. Visitation is a right, and its terms may be reached by an agreement included in the custody decree. Otherwise, it will be determined by the court on a case-by-case basis. The visitation order may be modified if it becomes detrimental to the child or the parents. Violation of a visitation decree or deception in its execution is ground for modification. Upon death of one parent, the surviving parent must arrange for the visitation of the children with the parents of the deceased, the best-interest-of-the-child rule applies.
Saudi Arabia Visitation
In Saudi Arabia, according to the “reunite International Child Abduction Centre”, a nonprofit in the United Kingdom, “Although Islamic law confirms that a child should have access to both parents, this cannot be guaranteed in practice in Saudi Arabia. An access order is very hard to implement and the system of sponsorship for entry into Saudi Arabia makes it difficult for a non-Saudi parent to obtain a visa to enter the country for contact visits with their child. It is particularly difficult for a non-Saudi mother who was not married to the father of her child to obtain a visa for entry into Saudi Arabia to visit a child abducted there.”
Child Support by Nation
In several verses, the Koran calls on Muslim fathers to support their children after dissolution of marriage. Sunni and Shi’a jurisprudence agree that during and after termination of the marriage, the father must maintain the children whether the wife is poor or rich.
Bangladesh Child Support
InBangladesh, the Divorce Act of 1869 provides for maintenance of wives but is silent regarding child support. Accordingly, the general principle of Muslim law regarding the duty of fathers to support children is applicable.
Indonesia Child Support
In Indonesia, the civil code provides that upon separation from bed and board or divorce, the parents are obliged to support their minor children as decided in Court. The duty to support continues if the court grants custody to a third party or if the child is placed with a public or private guardian.
Iran Child Support
InIran, the maintenance of the children is the duty of the father. On his death or incapacity for maintenance, this duty devolves upon the paternal grandfather, and then upon the mother, maternal grandfather and grandmother, and paternal grandmother, with preference going to the nearer kin of the father. If the grandparents are similar in degree of kinship, they must pay maintenance expenses equally. The court has power to enforce support against a third party.
Morocco Child Support
Moroccan law differentiates between custodian’s salary, the child’s accommodation, breast feeding, and child support. All are payable by the father if he is responsible for the child’s maintenance. Children may not be evicted from their parents’ conjugal home until the judgment is entered, and upon entry of the judgment, the court must determine the amount and the manner of rent to be paid and define the measures and procedures that will guarantee the execution of the judgment by the father concerned. Maintenance of children shall include cost of food, clothing, medical care, education, and ocher necessary expenses. If a father is unable to support all the persons he is legally required to support, precedence shall be given to the wife before the children.
Spousal Support by Islamic Nation
The Koran provides for the support of wives after divorce. This support is defined and limited to the period of iddah, which is three months or the termination of a pregnancy. During the iddah, a husband must support his wife according to his means, which includes residency in the family residence. After iddah, support may continue in the form of compensation for breast feeding.
Bangladesh Spousal Support
In Bangladesh, in Muhammad Hefzur Rahman v. Shamsun Nahar Begum, the supreme court, relying on the Koran, ruled that a Muslim husband’s responsibility to maintain his divorced wife does not cease with the expiration of the iddah. The court stated that a former husband is bound to provide his divorced wife with maintenance on a reasonable scale for an indefinite period until she remarries.
Egypt Spousal Support
In Egypt, the Decree-Law No. 25 of 1929 provides for two types of alimony: iddah and enjoyment alimony. The law limits iddah alimony to one year, even if the court orders a longer time. However, if a marriage is consummated and the wife is divorced without her consent or fault, she is entitled to another two years of support, at the rate of iddah alimony. In ordering the additional support, the court must consider husband’s financial situation, reason for divorce, and the length of the marriage. Enjoyment alimony may be paid in installments.
Indonesia Spousal Support
Indonesia applies fault-based divorce. The civil code authorizes a wife to claim support for her maintenance during pendency of litigation, provided she remains in the family residence or leaves with the court’s permission. Upon death of the guilty spouse, the innocent spouse will inherit all benefits granted to him or her by the other. In the absence of income, support may be satisfied by transfer of assets from one spouse to another. Support terminates upon the death of either spouse.
Iran Spousal Support
Iranian Civil Code provides for payment of support by a husband to his former wife and she is entitled to support during iddah (In Farsi, the word is pronounced iddeh,, also called Mahrieh or Mehrieh). The Iranian Civil Code also provides for settlement of any unpaid bridal gift or dowry. If wife is pregnant, she is entitled to support until the child is born. lddeh lasts for three menstrual periods or three months. The wife’s support takes precedence over support of the husband’s other relatives, and the wife’s claim for unpaid support takes precedence over third-party creditor claimants. In the event of the husband’s bankruptcy, the wife’s claim must be satisfied first.
Morocco Spousal Support
The Moroccan family code requires support for duration of iddah and adds housing accommodation. The law requires the deposit of a sum (decided by the court] by the husband within 30 days of filing for divorce to discharge the support that is due to the wife and dependent children. The amount due to the wife considers any delayed bride price or dowry, maintenance for the period of iddah, and the consolation gift, which is assessed based on the length of the marriage , the financial means of the husband, and the reasons for divorce. During iddah the wife may remain in the conjugal home or another suitable home, depending on the husband’s financial situation. Failing this, the court fixes an amount of money to cover housing expenses. The court ordered maintenance of the wife starts from the date the husband has ceased to pay the maintenance expenses incumbent upon him. The wife may lose her right to maintenance if she refuses a court-ordered return to the conjugal home.
Saudi Arabia Spousal Support
In Saudi Arabia, according to one source, “In all cases, the husband is required to pay the wife a one-off payment, pre-agreed at the time of the marriage.” Modern shari’ a law reflects the social, economic, and political values and goals of millions of Muslims. In particular, the family law of various countries reflects not only 14 centuries of shari’a law but also its more contemporary manifestations.
THE CHILDREN OF SHARI’A by Abbas Hadjian has been used by numerous legal professionals to provide insight when handling Islamic marriage divorces which involve child custody. Other re-publications of this work include:
1.See, e.g., http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hadith (“a tradition based on reports of the sayings and activities of Muhammad and his companions”) 2. See, e.g., http://www.onislam.net/; http://www.faqs.org/childhood/In-Ke/Islam.html; http://coleneallen.blogspot.com/2012/04/rights-of-father-under-sharia-law.html#!/2012/04/rights-of-father-under-sharia-law.html 3. See, e.g., http://islamqa.info/en/ref/20473; http://www.islamic-haria.org/children/islamic-perspective-on-child-custody-after-divorce-3.html; http://muslimmarriagecontract.org/laws.html 4. See, e.g., JAMAL J. NASIR, THE ISLAMIC LAW OF PERSONAL STATUS (2002); DAVID PEARL & WERNER MENSKI, MUSLIM FAMILY LAW (1998) 5. See Alamgir Muhammad Serajuddin, Judicial Activism and Family Law in Bangladesh, J. OF THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BANGLADESH (HUMANITIES) (June 2010) [hereinafter Judicial Activism] available at http://www.asiaticsociety.org.bd/journals/June_2010/index.htm 6. Md. Abu Baker Siddique v. S.M.A. Bakar, 38 DLR (AD) (1986) 7. See Judicial Activism, supra note 4 8. Consultive Op. No. 7-5263 (1373/08/03, Oct. 25, 1994) 9. See, e.g., http://libguides.law.harvard.edu/islamic_family_law; http://www.international-divorce.com/qatar_child_custody 10. Consultive Op. No. 7-4905 (1379/05/31, Aug. 21, 2000) 11. Consultive Op. No. 7-7626 (1380/08/02, Oct. 24, 2001) 12. See http://www.reunite.org/edit/files/Islamic %20Resource/Saudi%20Text.pdf 13. Muhammad Hefzur Rahman v. Shamsun Nahar Begum, 15 BLD 34 (1995) 14. Qanun-I Madani [Iranian Civil Code], Arts. 1078-1101 (marital gift by husband to the future wife) 15. http://genderindex.org/country/saudi-arabia
California Appellate Court, 6th District (Santa Clara):Vryonis decision (1988) invalidating Iranian Cultural Marriage was erroneous
Santa Clara, California, April 19, 2011: In Ceja v. Rudolph & Sletten, Inc., the California Appellate Court for the 6th District held that an innocent party to an invalid marriage would be entitled to marital benefits even if her beliefs were unreasonable.
By this holding, the court disagreed with more than two decades of California law reflected in the case of “In re Marriage of Vryonis”, decided in 1988, which declared that good faith belief in validity of marriage must be reasonable.
In Vryonis the court rejected claim of an Iranian woman who believed her private cultural marriage to her Greek husband was valid, although it was made in her home, without obtaining a marriage license as required by California law.
In Ceja, after death of her Husband at work, Mrs. Ceja brought action for wrongful death, but Husband’s employer moved for summary judgment claiming that as a matter of law, Mrs. Ceja did not qualify as a putative spouse because at the time of marriage knew that her Husband is married.
The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment, applying an objective test for putative status. The court found that it was not objectively reasonable for Mrs. Ceja to have believed that her marriage was valid. The appellate court disagreed. The court believed that good faith belief in validity of marriage asks whether that person actually believed the marriage was valid and whether he or she held that belief honestly, genuinely, and sincerely, without collusion or fraud.
The court disagreed with In re Marriage of Vryonis, which held that the statutory language incorporates an objective test. The court found that: 1. The concept of putative spouse, allowing marital benefits to a spouse even if the marriage is defective is a judicially created relief and the judicial definition of the putative spouse required only a good faith belief in the validity of a marriage. 2. The Legislature codified that definition without intending to change it. 3. The Vryonis court engrafted an objective test to the statutory definition based on the legally unsupported view that “good faith belief” necessarily incorporates an objective standard. 4. The Vryonis court intruded upon the Legislature’s prerogative.