Will A Divorce Court Enforce A Marital Contract (aka) A Contract To Pay Money To Get Someone To Marry You?
A traditional component of some Islamic marriages is a "mahr". The mahr is a payment of cash money (or a contract to pay money) to a prospective bride in order for her family and her to agree to the marriage. In a recent case out of Kent County, Michigan, the court awarded the wife a money judgment in the amount of forty-seven thousand, one hundred ($47,100) dollars as part of a divorce judgment.
In that case, the prospective groom, Mr Syed, negotiated with Mr. Mohammed Ali (not the boxer) the terms of marriage with regards to Mr. Ali's daughter. Mr. Syed verbally agreed that he would pay to Ms Ali fifty-one thousand ($51,000) dollars if she would marry him. On the date of the marriage but before the parties were married, the parties signed a one page document entitled "Marriage Certificate" which basically stated that if Ms Ali would marry him today, Mr. Syed would gladly pay her fifty-one thousand ($51,000) dollars later. As these things sometimes go, three years later Mr. Syed had only paid a total of three thousand, nine hundred ($3,900) dollars on the contract when Ms Ali filed for separate maintenance and Mr. Syed filed a counterclaim for divorce. The trial court determined the parties had signed a valid simple contract and ordered Mr. Syed to pay the balance of the contract, forty-seven thousand, one hundred ($47,100) dollars, in the judgment of divorce.
Mr. Syed appealed, but the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and ordered Mr. Syed to pay for Ms Ali's attorney fees and costs in defending against the appeal. Mr. Syed's most interesting argument on appeal was that this contract was invalid because it was illusory and lacked consideration. Consideration is a vital element in the law of contracts, consideration is a benefit which must be bargained for between the parties, and is the essential reason for a party entering into a contract. In a contract, one consideration (thing given - in this case entering into the marriage) is exchanged for another consideration (in this case, the money). The court stated that it has long been the law in this state that the promise to marry, followed by consummation is valuable consideration for a contract to marry. It cited a case from 1920 which states that the marriage was performance on her part and that a woman has right to specific performance (payment of the cash money) on the man's part. So, in Michigan is perfectly legal to pay someone to entice them to marry you, but you will have to pay the price even if the marriage does not work out.
Divorce or family law is a deceptively complicated area of the law, every case is different and subtle differences can result in vastly different results. When one is faced with a potential divorce, everyone around will offer well-meaning advice, but it is essential to retain an actual attorney that really knows this area of law and practice. If you have questions about family law, divorce, separation, marital contracts or prenuptial agreements, please schedule an appointment by contacting my assistant, Cathy at (248) 608-4123, or through the web site.