The validity of religious marriages under English Law and your financial rights on divorce.

At the time of entering into a religious marriage, you’re not usually thinking about what your rights to a financial claim might be in the event of a future divorce. As family lawyers with experience of divorce and financial claims, we strongly recommend that you take this into consideration before marriage and ensure you have taken the right steps so that you are financially protected in the event your marriage was to come to an end.

We are often asked two questions upon the breakdown of a Nikah (religious marriage), as follows: –

1. “Is my Nikah recognised as a valid marriage under English Law?” and

2. “What financial claims do I have against my spouse if I am married by way of a Nikah?”

The answer to both questions will depend on where your Nikah took place.

Religious marriages conducted Overseas

If your Nikah took place in a foreign country (i.e. not in England or Wales), then you must check the laws of that country (Getting married abroad – GOV.UK (

If your Nikah is performed in accordance with the laws of that country and you enter the UK thereafter, you will be recognised as married under English Law. For example, if you undergo a Nikah in Pakistan in accordance with the marriage laws in Pakistan, then your marriage would be recognised as valid under English Law. As such, you will be protected in the event of a divorce and will be entitled to make an application for a financial remedy on divorce in England and Wales.

Religious marriages conducted in England and Wales

If your Nikah took place in England or Wales, you will need to check whether the venue is registered with the appropriate licence to conduct marriage ceremonies (Places of worship registered for marriage – GOV.UK ( If your venue is not registered, then you will need to register your marriage by undergoing a further civil ceremony so that your marriage is recognised as valid by English Law, (Marriages and civil partnerships in England and Wales: Plan your ceremony – GOV.UK (

England and Wales are not Muslim countries and therefore do not automatically recognise a Nikah performed in England and Wales as a valid marriage unless that Nikah has been formally registered.

This case of Akhter v Khan [2018], ( HM Attorney General v Akhter & Ors [2020] EWCA Civ 122 (14 February 2020) ( ), was widely criticised by the press as leaving Muslim women with no financial rights upon divorce. In view of the judgment handed down in Akhter v Khan [2018], we would recommend that if you are planning to undergo a religious marriage then you must register your religious ceremony with the Registrar of Births, Death and Marriages.

If you do not have a registered marriage, then you will be considered a cohabiting couple. This means you do not have the same financial rights as a married couple. For instance, you will not be able to make a financial claim against your partners pension, income, or capital assets in their sole name, or for spousal maintenance.

This article sets out general guidance. For further information or if you have any questions about divorce and finances then please contact Family Solicitor Amera Karim Nazib today to arrange an initial consultation on 01204 527777 or email