Islamic Law in U.S. Courts: Tarikonda v. Pinjari (Mich. Ct. App. 2009): Michigan Law Defeats Extralegal Divorce Attempt

In divorce proceedings, a wife appealed the decision of the Oakland Circuit Court Family Division, granting her husband’s motion to dismiss her claims and recognize their previous divorce, which occurred when the couple was in India. Specifically, she contested the validity of the “triple ṭalāq” divorce (a version of final, irrevocable divorce under Indian and Islamic law, performed unilaterally by the husband) that her husband performed in India, and filed for divorce in Michigan. The trial court concluded that the certificate of divorce that the defendant husband produced from their earlier divorce was sufficient evidence to dismiss the case under Michigan Compiled Laws 2.116(C)(7) (which bars claims based on prior judgment). The Court of Appeals reversed and found in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the Indian divorce violated due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Michigan Constitution art. 1, § 2, as it gave the wife no chance to plead her case concerning the divorce before a court. The Court also concluded that allowing the divorce to stand would be contrary to state public policy, as it privileged the Muslim personal law of India (which placed women in a weaker position regarding property division in the event of a divorce than would Michigan state law) over Michigan state law and the rights and protections extended to persons living in the state.

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