In 2018, an article appeared in the Newspapers that Sharia Law had been recognised by a British court for the first time. The High Court ruled that an estranged couple’s Islamic marriage, (Nikah ceremony) fails under British matrimonial law, despite it not being legal marriage.
However, the Court of Appeal judges have now ruled that Islamic marriages are not valid in England and Wales after the attorney General appealed against the original decision.
Currently, if couples who have participated in a religious ceremony, that does not comply with the relevant requirements for a legal married, such as being in a building registered for weddings, with a marriage certificate being issued and a registrar present and wish for their marriage to be legally binding, they must have a marriage or civil ceremony as per the laws of England and Wales. This would allow them to apply for financial remedy under Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
If a couple does not have a legal ceremony, they are not able to apply for financial remedy under Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, but instead, would need to rely on legislation for cohabitees, under Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustee Act 1996 and possibly, Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989.
There are some circumstances in which a couple may choose to not be legally married, for example, if the couple wishes to engage in polygamy, which would be bigamy, if parties were legally married. However, there are also some cases when of the parties may not realise that their religious or cultural ceremony does not give them the legal rights as a spouse and upon separating, they may be left in a difficult financial position.
In 2017, a government review said that Muslim couples should be required to take part in civil marriages, in addition to a Nikah ceremony, the same as Christian and Jewish marriages.