Increasingly in our global society, legal issues of an international scope arise in family law cases. A recent appellate case dealt with one. In Ravasizadeh v. Niakosari, the Massachusetts Appeals Court decided for the first time an issue regarding enforceability of a mahr, which is an Islamic marriage contract, in the Commonwealth’s courts.

The parties were married in 2000 in New York and separated in 2012, by which time they lived in Massachusetts. Before they married, they signed a marriage contract which provided that the wife would receive 700 gold coins from the husband in the event of a divorce. Under Iranian law, the wife was to receive only those gold coins and three months of alimony from the husband. The husband owned property in Iran, which he had inherited from his father. During the marriage, the parties enjoyed an upper-middle class lifestyle and owned property together.

At trial, the judge entered orders regarding custody and child support, and also ordered that the parties’ property be sold and the proceeds be split equally. The judge included in his calculations the property of the husband in Iran. In light of the equitable division, and finding that the wife could continue enjoying the lifestyle to which the parties were accustomed, the judge declined to award any alimony.

During the pendency of the litigation, the wife also filed a case in the appropriate Iranian court to enforce the mahr. The court found in the wife’s favor. The husband appealed to the Iranian court of appeals, which also found for the wife. The husband appealed to the Supreme Court of Iran, and that action was still pending during the Massachusetts litigation.

Back in the Massachusetts court, in addition to the division of property above, the trial judge also held that the 700 gold coins were the property of the wife. He ordered the husband to pay into the court in Iran the value of the gold coins in order to satisfy the judgment. Finally, the judge also ordered that even if the Supreme Court of Iran were to reverse and find for the husband, the husband must pay an amount equal to one-half of the money to the wife in order to satisfy liability.

The husband appealed, claiming that the judge had no authority over the marital contract, especially as the marriage contract was already being litigated in the Iranian courts. The husband also argued that the judge’s calculation created a disproportionate division of marital assets in favor of the wife.

The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in part and reversed in part, holding that the portion of the decision enforcing the marital contract should be reversed, while the judge’s order dividing the rest of the property should stand. The Court noted that the trial judge properly used all of the factors involved in dividing property equitably, that the judge had broad discretion to make property decisions, and that the judge’s rationale and findings provided a detailed explanation for the conclusions he reached.

However, the Court held that jurisdiction over the marital contract laid with the Iranian courts. It explained and enforced the doctrine of comity, which allows the Massachusetts courts to recognize and enforce valid judgments rendered by a foreign court.

“It was error, therefore, to order the husband to pay the mahr to the wife in the event that the Supreme Court of Iran finds in his favor; in the alternative, it was error to order the wife to split with the husband any judgment that she receives, if the Supreme Court of Iran affirms the earlier judgment in her favor. That is to say, if the Supreme Court of Iran does not enforce the mahr, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to do so; if the Supreme Court of Iran does enforce it, the Probate and Family Court is without jurisdiction to dispose of it differently,” the Court stated.

If you have questions or concerns about issues involving family law, alimony, custody, child support, and more, you should contact a competent attorney. Our divorce, family, and domestic relations attorneys may be able to work on your behalf to handle your case. Contact our offices by phone at 978-225-9030 during business hours to schedule a free consultation. We will respond to you as soon as possible.