Battling imprisonment in religious marriage

Battling imprisonment in religious marriage

Almost two thirds of Muslim weddings in the United Kingdom are not qualified as a union under civil law. This means that a marriage cannot be ended by a national court, but only by religious courts. However, divorcing through religious courts often leads to little support for women, or may even force them to stay in the marriage. Therefore, new legislation in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands should allow women to receive legal protection after a separation and end marital captivity: being kept in a marriage against one’s will.

Many Muslim marriages not qualified as union under civil law
In 2019, the Council of Europe declared that all Muslim couples getting married in the United Kingdom must obtain a civil union.[1] This is a legal relationship between two people, which provides protection and legal benefits to the spouses.[2] Currently, not all Muslim couples obtain such a civil union. Even though many couples have a Nikah – a Muslim wedding ceremony -, research from 2017 found that almost two thirds of those marriages in the United Kingdom were not qualified as a union under civil law. This means that people may get married under religious authorities, but avoid financial and other duties they should owe to their husband or wife that come with a civil union.[3]

Not being married under civil law can lead to various issues. For example, after a divorce, women are left without child support or pressured into polygamous relationships. This is the result of the lack of protection offered to people in religious marriages.[4] A religious marriage cannot be ended by national courts,[5] as it is not a legal relationship. Instead, people have to go through religious courts. These courts, however, may make rulings that force women to stay with their partners or make women unable to claim any money. The obligation to obtain a civil union should limit the obstacles for women to receive legal protection after a separation.[6]

New legislation in the Netherlands to end marital captivity
The issue is not only relevant in the United Kingdom. The Dutch government is also working on simplifying the ending of a religious marriage, even if a partner does not want to cooperate. A new law currently under review should allow judges to issue a divorce and end a religious marriage in a single procedure. This would replace the current system in which two legal processes are required, which can be an obstacle to divorce. The aim of the new law is to end marital captivity. Marital captivity occurs when someone is kept in a marriage against their will, because of an inability to end their marriage.[7] [8] [9]

Women are most often affected by marital captivity. This is caused by the fact that in some religions, men are allowed to have multiple wives or can easily separate from their wife. However, women can only get divorced when their husband or their religious authority agrees.[10] The new and proposed legislation in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands should reduce the obstacles to escape such marital captivity. Nevertheless, its true impact remains to be seen.

Anne Clerx

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[1]British women ‘being forced into polygamous relationships’ because law lets them down, campaigners say
[2] Civil union | sociology
[3]British women ‘being forced into polygamous relationships’ because law lets them down, campaigners say
[4]British women ‘being forced into polygamous relationships’ because law lets them down, campaigners say
[5]Marital Captivity: Bridging the gap between religion and law (MARICAP) – About UM
[6]British women ‘being forced into polygamous relationships’ because law lets them down, campaigners say
[7]Kabinet wil beëindiging ‘huwelijkse gevangenschap’ vergemakkelijken
[8] Ontbinden religieus huwelijk wordt makkelijker
[9] Quicker end to marital captivity | News item
[10] Marital captivity and Human Rights – blog