A Syrian-born man who divorced his wife in a Sharia court has been told by Europe’s top court that the divorce is not legally valid in Germany, where the former couple now live.
The European Court of Justice said EU countries need not legally recognise divorces not granted by a state court.
Some Muslims believe men can end their marriage instantly by saying “talaq” (divorce) three times.
This is the ECJ’s first ever ruling on the subject.
The couple married in 1999 in the Syrian city of Homs before eventually moving to Germany. They hold both Syrian and German nationality.
In 2013, the husband ended the marriage in a Sharia court in the Syrian city of Latakia by having a representative repeating “talaq”. The ECJ calls the measure “private divorce”, as a state authority is not involved.
The wife acknowledged the divorce in writing, but contested it after the former husband applied for its recognition in a court in the German city of Munich.
The court then referred the case to the ECJ, asking for clarifications over the interpretation of the EU divorce law pact, known as the Rome III Regulation.
The ECJ said the regulation “does not apply, by itself, to the recognition of a divorce decision delivered in a third country”.
It added that a unilateral declaration of divorce before a religious court does not fall under the scope of the regulation, and said the case must be resolved under German law.
The ECJ does not decide the dispute itself, and the court in Munich will take a final decision on the issue.
Triple talaq divorce has no mention in Sharia Islamic law or the Koran, even though the practice has existed for decades.
Islamic scholars say the Koran clearly spells out how to issue a divorce – it has to be spread over three months, allowing a couple time for reflection and reconciliation.
Why must “talaq” be said three times? Under some interpretations of Islamic law, a man can divorce his wife and get back together with her – but only twice. After the third divorce, the marriage is completely over and cannot be started again without an intervening marriage to someone else.
Most Islamic countries have now banned triple talaq.