Whilst statistics show that an increasing number of couples are choosing not to marry, many couples still choose to formalise their partnership, opting for a religious ceremony which reflects their upbringing and beliefs.
Making the commitment to spend the rest of your life with another person brings with it a number of decisions. To the average person, the minute details of the day take precedence over particulars contained within the Marriage Act 1949 - which sets out the requirements for a valid marriage in England and Wales. Whilst some ceremonies will comply with the requirements laid down, other cases will not be so clear-cut meaning that the Court must decide whether there is a valid legal marriage through a careful analysis of the facts.
The case of Akhtar v Khan
This case involved a 20-year marriage between Nasreen Akhtar and Mohammed Shabaz Khan. Whilst the High Court originally ruled that the couple's islamic ceremony constituted a valid marriage under English Law, in February 2020 the Court of Appeal reversed this decision finding that the ceremony was legally invalid. Importantly, the ceremony had not been conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act 1949 meaning in the eyes of the law that it was a 'non-marriage' (or non-existent marriage).
Why does it matter?
Marriage brings with it a number of benefits associated with the legal status of husband and wife. These benefits are wide-ranging, spanning tax, pensions and inheritance. When a marriage irretrievably breaks down, either party has the right to apply to the Court for a financial order. In deciding what order to make, the Court will consider a range of factors whilst placing an emphasis on achieving a fair outcome in light of the needs and circumstances of the parties.
If there has been no valid marriage, there can be no divorce, meaning that separating couples are left with limited rights in the face of law. The case of Akhtar v Khan emphasises once again that the construct of common law husband and wife does not exist.
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Our expert team of family solicitors can advise on a range of issues, from pre-nuptial agreements through to divorce, finance and child arrangement matters.
By Nicola Corby, Trainee Solicitor