What Does Talaq Mean for My Civil Marriage in the UK

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Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

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Those who wish to celebrate their marriage in a place of worship, or elsewhere, that has not been registered for marriage must go through an additional civil ceremony in order to be legally married. Marriages which take place overseas will be recognised in the UK in specified circumstances.

Many Muslims in the UK have an Islamic religious marriage ceremony – a Nikah – in an unregistered building and do not have an additional civil ceremony. This means that their marriage will not be recognised as being legally valid.

The husband can end a Nikah marriage by using the “Talaq” procedure, which is not court based, whereas the wife will use a different procedure which usually involves an application to a Shariah Council. 

An Independent Review into the application of Sharia Law in England and Wales in 2018 found that a significant number of Muslim couples do not register their religious marriage as a civil marriage. As such, this means that some Muslim women have no option of obtaining a civil divorce.

This appears to be a growing trend as the BBC has reported on a growing number of young Muslims in the UK are entering marriages that are not legally recognised. This is because couples are having an Islamic wedding without the civil ceremony needed for the marriage to be recognised under British law.

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the head of Britain's Muslim Parliament, says the lives of many Muslim women are being ruined because their Islamic marriages are not legally recognised.

''It is a major problem in the community," insisted Dr Siddiqui. "But it is very difficult to put an exact figure on the scale of this because there are no statistics. It could be in its hundreds if not thousands."

Shaista Gohir is the head of the UK's Muslim Women's Network. She says the problem arises, in some cases, out of ignorance as many young Muslims believe that the nikah is legally binding.

''If a couple has a Nikah in a Muslim country then the marriage is recognised under UK law. But many do not realise that this is not the case if the nikah is conducted in this country,’’ she explained.

However, Ms Gohir said, some couples preferred to wait and “test out” the marriage before they had their civil ceremony but that sometimes, couples will simply say that they will register their marriage later but fail to do so. 

Due to this, there are growing concerns that some Muslim women are being exploited with their partners promising a civil wedding before the Nikah and then refusing to go ahead with it afterwards. Speaking about this, Dr Siddiqiui said: 

“This allows Muslim men to control their wives because they can threaten to leave them and end the Islamic marriage.”

“It also enables some men to commit polygamy. I know of cases where men have taken on several wives because they have just had the Nikah with each partner.’’

He wants Muslim women to protect themselves by always having a civil ceremony before the nikah and is also calling for all mosques to become registered to conduct civil marriages. This would then allow the couple to have the nikah and registry at the same time under one roof. However, Dr Siddiqiui highlighted that: 

‘’The problem is that only a handful of mosques across the country are registering themselves.”

‘’I don’t know why this is the case because it is very simple to do – all they need to do is fill out a form.”

‘’Religious leaders must take a bigger responsibility to protect many Muslim women who are unnecessarily suffering."

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What’s the Difference Between a Nikah and a Civil Ceremony?

While a Nikah is a requirement in Islam, a Nikah on its own isn’t recognised in England or Wales. You may be confused if you are a Muslim living in the UK about the legal status of your marriage and your financial position if your marriage ends.

The law regards parties to a marriage which is not legally recognised in this country as cohabitants, and their marriage as a “non-marriage”. Which means that the Court has no power to override the strict legal ownership of property.

To avoid this, you can make sure your marriage is recognised both religiously and under civil law by having a civil ceremony as well as your Nikah.

Does a Talaq or Khula End a Civil Marriage?

Some people forget to end their civil ceremony and some people think that once the Talaq has been pronounced, your civil marriage will also be dissolved at the same time and vice versa. This is simply not the case.

When it comes to making that difficult choice of ending a marriage, most people will speak to their local mosques or contact the Sharia Council to end the marriage by way of a Talaq or Khula.

Khula is when a married woman initiates divorce proceedings. This is usually done for valid reasons such as immoral behaviour, mistreatment from the husband, or if he doesn’t provide maintenance.

Talaq is the Islamic equivalent of divorce which seeks to end the marriage. Only the husband has the right of talaq, unless stated otherwise in the marriage (nikah) contract. Guidance from the Shariah Council states that Talaq is a serious responsibility and must not be issued except as a very last resort.

It is advisable to exert all necessary efforts for reconciliation to discuss and try to resolve the marital issues, or to select a member from each family to arbitrate, or to seek the help of the Imams and so on. After all efforts of reconciliation are exhausted and the matters remain unresolved, Talaq may be issued to end the marriage between the husband and the wife, amicably and equitably

It’s important to understand that whilst this deals with the important process of getting a religious divorce and dissolving the marriage properly in Islamic law, the process will not automatically end a legal marriage in the UK.

This means that if you had a civil ceremony in the UK as well as a Nikah, you would also need to get a divorce.

The Sharia Council will deal with an Islamic divorce but the Courts in England and Wales will deal with an English civil divorce.

When a Talaq has been pronounced, the Sharia Council will give you a certificate called a ‘Talaq Nama’. When a civil marriage is dissolved you will get a Decree Absolute/Final Order which are the only certificates that will legally end a marriage in the Courts. 

What About Our Matrimonial Assets?

Whether or not the marriage is legally recognised by the civil Courts can make a big difference to what Financial Order you can get after your separation in order to divide your assets.

As such, it is always important to understand the legal status of the marriage when it breaks down. To do this, you might need a specialist Divorce Solicitor to help you understand your legal position and to help you navigate this process too.

Our Family Law solicitors recognise that both the religious and civil aspects of the breakdown of a relationship or marriage are equally important. We appreciate that it’s important to resolve your issues in both systems and make sure it’s done in a way that is compatible with the religious and cultural priorities of you and your family.

We have years of experience in helping clients navigate the religious and civil issues that can come up when a marriage ends, and we can give you guidance as the process moves forward to make sure everything is covered.

We appreciate that everyone’s situation is different and there’s not one size that fits all which is why we recommend getting legal advice from a Divorce Solicitor who can advise you based on your situation.

Whatever your situation is we can help you to find the best way of amicably bringing your relationship to an end while protecting your finances and assets for the rest of your life. Our expert legal advice will always be personal and tailored to you and your family.

We offer a variety of options for appointments including telephone and video calls – whatever suits you best. We’re here to support you and make the process as easy as possible for you. You will be fully supported throughout the divorce process, and we will deal with your former partner or their solicitor and the court. This takes the pressure off you, so that you can take care of yourself and your family.

To contact one of our expert Divorce Solicitors, please call our friendly and helpful team today on 0808 239 3465 who will be more than happy to help. Alternatively, you can request a call back


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Simpson Millar LLP. (n.d.). Finances in Divorce. [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/finances-in-divorce/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Simpson Millar LLP. (2019). What's the Difference Between a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute? [Online] Available at: https://www.simpsonmillar.co.uk/family-law-solicitors/divorce/whats-the-difference-between-a-decree-nisi-and-a-decree-absolute/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

UK Parliament. (2020). Sharia Law in the UK. [Online] Available at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8747/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Liverpool Muslim Society. (n.d.). How the Nikah Marriage Is Performed. [Online] Available at: https://www.liverpoolmuslimsociety.org.uk/how-the-nikkah-marriage-is-perform/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Shariah Council. (n.d.). Talaq (Divorce). [Online] Available at: https://www.shariahcouncil.org/talaq-divorce/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Shariah Council. (n.d.). Home. [Online] Available at: https://www.shariahcouncil.org/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Shariah Council. (n.d.). Khula (Divorce). [Online] Available at: https://www.shariahcouncil.org/khula-divorce/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

BBC News. (2010). UK Islamic Sharia Council's first female judge. [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/mobile/uk/8493660.stm (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Muslim Women's Network UK. (n.d.). [Homepage]. [Online] Available at: https://www.mwnuk.co.uk/ (Accessed: 22/12/2023).

Lorraine Harvey

Partner, Family Law

Areas of Expertise:
Family Law

Lorraine is a Partner at Simpson Millar, specialising in Family Law for over 20 years.

She handles middle to high net value cases, including pension claims and complex trust, and also advises on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.

Lorraine has unrivalled knowledge of public sector pensions, in particular police pensions, having advised police officers on pension claims for two decades.

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