The parties signed an Islamic marriage contract on September 14, 2015 in Bangladesh. The 2-page document provided for Husband to pay to Wife five lac Taka upon marriage, and ten lac Taka in the event of divorce. Husband filed for divorce on July 9, 2019 in Florida. At the trial, Wife argued that the remaining payment of 10 lac Taka was the minimum amount due and owing to her, and did not bar her from other forms of relief, such as equitable distribution and temporary support. Husband argued the opposite – that the ten lac Taka was the maximum she could recover from the divorce. The trial court agreed with the Husband, concluding that the Islamic marriage contract limited the Wife’s recovery to the ten lac Taka or other property of equivalent value. Her attempts for a rehearing were denied, so she appealed.
Florida law enforces prenuptial agreements, if they were entered into freely, even if the agreement is objectively unreasonable. An Islamic marriage contract’s secular terms are enforceable as a contractual obligation, notwithstanding that it was entered into as part of a religious marriage ceremony. In this case, neither spouse actually contests the validity or enforceability of the Islamic marriage contract. They simply disagree as to its interpretation. Husband interprets the contract under shari’a law, where concepts of equitable distribution and alimony do not exist. Wife interprets the contract based on the four corners – there is no language in the four corners of the contract that abrogates traditional notions of equitable distribution and temporary support.
In this case, Florida law applies to the secular terms in the contract, and there is a presumption in favor of equitable distribution at the time of divorce, rebuttable by plain unambiguous language expressing a desire to waive equitable distribution. The same hold true when waiving temporary support. Therefore, the appellate court reversed and remanded because the Islamic marriage contract did not have such waiver language.