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Akileh v. Elchahal

The court held that the "sadaq" (mahr) agreement between Husband and Wife was in effect an Islamic antenuptial contract valid and enforceable on its terms based on neutral principles of contract law.

Akileh v. Elchahal, 666 So. 2d 246 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996); District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District

The court held that the "sadaq" (mahr) agreement between Husband and Wife was in effect an Islamic antenuptial contract valid and enforceable on its terms based on neutral principles of contract law.

Husband and Wife were married in 1991. Approximately two months before the marriage, the Husband met with the Wife’s father to discuss the issue of sadaq (mahr), which the Court described as a postponed dowry in the Islamic tradition that protects the woman in the event of a divorce. The Husband, Wife and Wife’s father agreed that the Husband would pay $50,001 as sadaq, $1 in advance and $50,000 deferred in case of a divorce. This sadaq was signed on the date of the marriage. The certification of the marriage, which included the agreed-upon sadaq, was completed in the presence of two witnesses and the Imam of the Islamic Center of Tampa Bay.

About one year after the marriage, the relationship became contentious and the Wife left the parties’ apartment. The Husband also made plans to leave. In August 1993, the Wife filed for divorce. The Husband served his answer and counterclaim for the dissolution of the marriage in response.

The trial court held that the sadaq was not enforceable for lack of consideration and because there was no meeting of the minds as to the parties’ understanding of the sadaq. Expert witnesses on the Wife’s side testified that the Wife had an absolute right to the postponed sadaq unless she waived her right or cheated on her husband. The Husband, on the other hand, argued that a woman seeking a divorce forfeited her right to the postponed sadaq unless she was abused.

The appellate court reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision finding that, under Florida law, marriage is sufficient consideration to uphold an antenuptial agreement. The Court explained that there was sufficient agreement between the parties on the essential terms of the contract because the parties understood that a sadaq protected the wife in the event of a divorce and the wife had performed her obligation to the contract by entering into the marriage. The court concluded that the sadaq was enforceable as a type of contract and entered judgment in favor of the Wife, requiring the Husband to pay the postponed dowry.

Note: Court cited Aziz v. Aziz, 127 Misc. 2d 1013, 488 N.Y.S.2d 123 (Sup. Ct. 1985), upholding a court’s authority to require that a party fulfills secular obligations of a religious antenuptial agreement, and Schwartz v. Schwartz , 153 Misc. 2d 789, 583 N.Y.S.2d 716, 718 (Sup. Ct. 1992), stating that a court may use “neutral principles of law” to resolve disputes with religious dimensions.

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