Court of Appeal Upholds Validity of Syrian Marriage by Proxy

You can only get divorced if you are legally a husband or wife and the validity of marriages can raise thorny legal issues, particularly if they are celebrated abroad. In one case that illustrated the point, the Court of Appeal recognised an arranged marriage that was conducted in Syria in the absence of the groom.

The couple concerned were both British citizens and had lived together in the UK as man and wife for 14 years following the religious ceremony, and had brought up a child together. The groom had been represented at the ceremony by proxy and there was no dispute that that arrangement was permissible under Syrian law.

After their separation, both petitioned for divorce and engaged in proceedings concerning the division of their assets. It was only at a late stage that the man raised doubts about their married status. He contended that the marriage had never been properly registered in accordance with Syrian law. His arguments, however, failed to convince a family judge, who upheld the marriage’s validity.

In rejecting the man’s appeal, the Court noted that, under English law, the marriage was presumed to be valid unless proved to the contrary. He had been the first to file for divorce, thus asserting the validity of the marriage, and it was clear that he had behaved throughout the relationship as if he were to all intents and purposes a married man. Official Syrian records were inconclusive and he had failed to produce clear, positive and compelling evidence that he remained single. The Court’s decision meant that the wife was entitled to the same financial and other rights as anyone divorcing after a valid marriage.

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