Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sex, the City and Dearborn Arab Women

I went to the movies with my wife. I wanted to see "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," my wife wanted to watch Sex and the City.


Sex and the City turned out to be as good as she expected. My wife and I spent three of our precious free time to watch this movie. Once you have children, their needs make it almost impossible to have free time.

One scene in the movie reminded me of Dearborn Arab women.

Carrie was about to move in with her boyfriend. She expressed anxiety that the place she would call home, in the event of a falling out she would have no legal rights to.

Then they decide to get married.

As an attorney who practices family law, I have come across a number of Arab Muslim women who put themselves in a situation that Carrie wanted to avoid.

A number of local couples opt to have a religious marriage but not a civil marriage. (This is a phenomenon worthy of a systematic study).

They go to an Imam who marries them, does Katb al Kitab for them.

Imams, as well as other clergy, have the legal authority to marry couples provided the couple has a marriage certificate issued by the county clerk. Without a marriage license, any document issued by the Imam does not make a legal marriage.

This legal document protects women in the case of a falling out.

Michigan, with few narrow exceptions, does not recognize common law marriages. However, I heard a judge say once that she would be willing to recognize as a legal marriage a religious marriage that extends over a number of years and results in children- it would be an issue of equity.

But this would be an uphill battle and a bad situation that could easily be avoided by getting a marriage license.

The unfortunate reality is that without a civil marriage, I have seen and heard a number of women end up with nothing. The women that have put themselves in this bad situation have included first as well as second generation Arab Americans; women with little education and women with graduate degrees.

The Islamic "marriage contract" stipulates an amount of money or other thing of value to be given to the woman in the event of a divorce. However, the women are unable to get that since the agreement is usually not properly executed to survive a challenge by the putative husband.

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