(Family Division, Moylan J, 5 December 2013)
The Syrian woman was a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church and lived in Syria until 2007 when she moved to England. The Turkish man was also at times a member of the same church and met the woman in Syria where they took part in a ceremony at the local Syrian Orthodox Church. A marriage was not registered with the authorities and the woman's status remained registered as single.
When the couple separated the woman obtained a religious divorce from the Syrian Orthodox Church and was presented with a certificate signed by the archbishop stating the marriage was dissolved. The woman filed a decree of divorce while the man claimed the ceremony was no more than a blessing and failed to create either a valid or void marriage and that , therefore, the woman was not entitled to a financial remedy under English law.
The English court had to determine the legality of the marriage by applying the law of the place where the marriage was celebrated. It had to determine the effect of the foreign law by reference to English law concepts and to decide what remedy under English law, if any, was available.
On the facts of this case, the ceremony was a marriage ceremony as was known and intended by both the man and woman. A legal marriage was not affected and the man was entitled to a decree of nullity. This was not a case of a non-marriage as both parties knew they were participating in a marriage ceremony which was capable of being made formally valid via the registration procedure following the ceremony. It was also capable of conferring the status of husband and wife if they had complied with the necessary formalities. In English law terms this was a void marriage.