Aghili v. Saadatnejadi

The court, in favor of the Wife, reversed the trial court’s grant of annulment of marriage and held that the Husband and Wife’s Islamic marriage was valid.

Aghili v. Saadatnejadi, 958 S.W.2d 784 (1997) Court: Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Middle Section, Nashville

Husband and Wife are from Iran. In December 1994, they were married in Tennessee in a religious ceremony officiated by a member of their community, Mr T. Mr. T blessed the couple in the presence of four witnesses. After the ceremony, Mr. T, Wife, and Husband signed a marriage certificate. The certificate was filed with the mosque in Nashville, but was not filed with the Tennessee Department of Health within the required three days. The couple separated in January after the Husband threatened Wife to forfeit her dowry. Later in February of 1995, Mr. T and the Wife signed a marriage license with the Husband’s information and filed it with the Department of Health. May 1995, Husband filed suit requesting annulment or divorce. Husband argued that the marriage was invalid because Mr. T was not qualified to solemnize marriages and the marriage license was not filed within three days after the Islamic ceremony. The trial court agreed with the Husband and found that the marriage was void from the start.

Wife appealed the trial court’s decision. On appeal, the court found that Mr. T was qualified to solemnize marriages. The court stated a Tennessee statute that provides “all regular ministers…having the care of souls . . . may solemnize the rite of matrimony.” The court looked to the particular religion, in this case, Islam, to determine whether a person is “regular minister having care of souls.” While Mr. T was not the official imam of a mosque, he had previously carried out the duties of an imam and was qualified to solemnize the marriage.

Also, the court held that Mr. T’s failure to file the license within the time required did not invalidate the marriage. The filing of the February license was valid because it was signed by the officiant, Mr. T, and had the required information. Tennessee presumes that “regularly solemnized marriages are valid.” In this case, the Husband had the burden to show that the marriage was invalid and failed to do so.

Note: Followed by Guzman v. Alvares, 205 S.W.3d 375 at 380 (Supreme Court of Tennessee, 2006) (“regulary solemnized marriages are presumed to be valid” and “the party challenging the validity of the marriage . . . bears the burden of rebutting the presumptions”)

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