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Dowries In the Modern Age: What Happens to an Islamic Mahr, Mehrieh, Mehr, or Dowry, During a Maryland Divorce: Part 2



In my previous postI talked about the Islamic concept of Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry.  This post will discuss how Maryland Courts may address the issue of Mehr or Mehrieh when an Iranian family, married in Iran, and now living in Maryland, files for divorce in Maryland.

My Iranian divorce clients, who were married in Iran, almost always ask me: “Can I get my Mehr or Mehrieh when I file in Divorce.”  The Answer is: it depends.

And it depends on how a Maryland Court looks at the concept of Mehr or Mehrieh.  There are many good arguments for and against the concept of Mehrieh under Maryland divorce laws.

Arguments for Mehr or Mehrieh

  1. It is a Gift.  Maryland divorce laws treats an engagement ring as a gift before the marriage and therefore cannot be divided in a divorce.  So, it could be argued, that there is little difference between giving spouse a 5 carat diamond engagement ring as opposed to a promise (or gift) for 100 gold coins, which is what happens under the Muslim Faith and is referred to as Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry.
  1. It is a ContractIn many Middle Eastern cultures, the Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry is in writing.  Therefore, if held to be valid contract under Maryland law, a spouse can enforce her right in civil court under contract laws rather than in family court under divorce laws.

Arguments against Mehr or Mehrieh

  1. Same as Alimony:  Maryland law provides an income dependent spouse (the spouse that has no money or doesn’t work) the right to obtain support from his or her spouse.  That support is referred to as Alimony.  Depending on the length of the marriage and other factors, alimony can be for determined period of time or indefinite.  The purpose of alimony is to provide monetary support to the other spouse so that he or she can maintain a certain living standard.  The purpose of alimony is very similar to Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry.  In Middle Eastern countries, the Mehr or Dowry serves as a form of security or money the wife could use in the future for her own benefit upon marriage breakdown.  Therefore, an Iranian spouse cannot get her Mehr and Alimony.
  1. Fairness:  That one cannot apply for divorce under Maryland Law and obtain all the benefits of the marital rights in Maryland and go back to her home country and attempt to collect her Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry.

Other jurisdictions have also taken a similar approach.  The common approach is that if Dowry is treated as gift on top of the 50% presumptive entitlement to family assets, most often men are left with less than 50% of the family assets and a large ‘gift’ they have to pay the wife at the time of marriage break down, which doesn’t appear to be fair.

In general, Courts acknowledge the concept of Mehr, Mehrian or Dowry as a religious right or a tradition, but cancel or void it due to the following factors:

  • 1) The total family assets may be worth less than the amount of the Mehr.;
  • 2) The Mehr contract was negotiated shortly before marriage and therefore not enough thought or negotiation took place before the signing;
  • 3) The parties did not seek independent legal advice;
  • 4) The contract was negotiated between the parents and not the parties and is therefore not binding;

Notwithstanding the above arguments, in most cases, given the uncertain outcome, most litigation on this issue are costly.  Therefore, the majority of cases resolves where the woman decides to go for a 50/50 split on the family assets and obtain alimony in the United States and then go to Iran and sue for their Mehr. This means that the husband, upon entering Iran, Iraq or any country that enforces Mahr, has to pay it before being able to exit the country.

The best way to prevent the above is to enter into a Marital Settlement Agreement in the United States that specifically addresses the issue of Mehr, Mehrieh or Dowry.  This way each party is protected.

There are international development on this issue, particularly in Canada which has a high population of Iranian immigrants.  Any new developments on this issue will be further updated on our Blog.

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