Friday, March 29, 2024

First Amendment Precludes Court from Enforcing Mahr in Divorce Action

 In Omid v. Ahmadi, (CT Super., March 18, 2024), a Connecticut state trial court in a action for dissolution of a marriage refused to enforce a mahr (dowry) agreement because interpreting it would require the court to interpret religious principles.  The mahr was entered by the parties in connection with their marriage in Afghanistan. The husband who had apparently been a translator for the U.S. military during the Afghan war received a visa to the United States and then returned to Afghanistan for one month to enter an arranged marriage. Three years later he arranged for his wife to obtain a U.S. visa. One year after she came to the U.S., the parties separated. In denying the wife's request in the dissolution case for an order enforcing the mahr, the court said in part:

The parties disagree as to when the 100,000 Afghanis must be paid, and whether, as the defendant argues, the terms "prompt" and "deferred" as used in the agreement describe a general duty to pay at any time, or a specific duty to pay one amount before marriage and one amount upon divorce or death of the husband. The term "prompt" in the parties' agreement is ambiguous and would require the court to look outside the four corners of the contract....

On the basis of the foregoing, to the extent that construction of the contract language would require this court to reference Islamic religious principles to determine the meaning of the terms employed, such action would likely violate the religion clauses of the first amendment of the United States constitution. The present agreement is sparse, and its terms are ill-defined without extratextual evidence. Because this extratextual evidence involves considerations of what the terms mean under Islamic law, the agreement is unenforceable because it is likely impossible for the court to disentangle secular from religious considerations.