On February 4, 2021, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in the unreported opinion of Chaudry v. Chaudry, affirmed that a mehr signed by the parties at the time of their marriage was not an enforceable contract.
The parties married in an Islamic marriage ceremony in 2004 in Virginia. At the time, the parties signed a mehr. After a tumultuous marriage, in 2018, the Wife filed a Complaint for Absolute Divorce. The Husband countered. At the conclusion of the trial, the court, among other things, ordered the Husband to pay the Wife a marital award in excess of $279,000. The Husband contends that the trial judge should have enforced the provisions in the mehr, which he says would have required him to pay to his Wife the sum of $10,000 in lieu of equitably dividing their marital property.
The Maryland courts addressed the issue of a mehr in 2020 in the Nouri case. The Nouri court elaborated on the basic understanding of a mehr. Unfortunately, in the Chaudry case, while both spouses agreed that they entered into a mehr, neither could locate a copy and each disagreed as to the terms of the mehr.
The Husband argued that the mehr was a binding contract that required him to pay $10,000 to his Wife if they divorced, in lieu of dividing their property. The Wife argued that the mehr was part of a larger document she signed, but that it did not limit her rights to equitable distribution. In fact, it obligated the Husband to pay her $10,000, in addition to other money that may be due to her at divorce, such as alimony. The burden was on the Husband to prove an enforceable contract, and without the document, he produced videos of portions of the marriage ceremony and an uncertified translation of part of the ceremony. He testified to some of the negotiations between the families in advance, as did the Wife. In the end, the judge concluded that he did not meet his burden. The Husband appealed.
Mehrs may be enforced as secular contracts if they are enforceable under neutral contract principles. In Maryland, mehrs must be scrutinized pursuant to the stringent tests applicable to confidential relationships. The Husband’s burden therefore required he show: the mehr “was supported by mutual assent manifested by ‘(1) intent to be bound, and (2) definiteness of terms,’ as well as by consideration,” and the mehr “was not the product of ‘overreaching, that is, whether in the atmosphere and environment of the confidential relationship there was unfairness or inequity in the result of the agreement or in its procurement.'”