In re Mariam Ayad, No. 05-21-00216-CV (Texas 5th Ct. App. June 22, 2021)

On December 26, 2008, Mariam Ayad ("Wife") and Ayad Hashim Latif ("Husband") got married.  They executed a prenuptial agreement ("Islamic Prenuptial Agreement") on the same day, which the wife alleges she considered to be a customary marriage certificate, not a contract conferring substantive rights and limitations on the Husband and the Wife, respectively.  The couple have a son.  Their marriage started deteriorating in 2020, at which point the Wife alleges she learned for the first time about the existence of the Islamic Prenuptial Agreement and the fact that she had executed it on the day of her marriage with her Husband.  On January 25, 2021, the Wife filed for divorce.  The Husband countersued for divorce and filed a motion to have the Islamic Prenuptial Agreement enforced, which provides that all divorce-related matters, including spousal support, child support, alimony, and marital property division, shall be resolved through the ruling of a fiqh panel to be convened.  The trial court, in rejecting the Wife's arguments regarding the invalidity and unenforceability of the Islamic Prenuptial Agreement, which the Wife had argued based on her assertion that she had thought she was signing a cultural document at the time of signing and that she was not given an opportunity to read and understand the terms, ruled in favor of the Husband and held that the prenuptial arrangement be enforced. 

The Wife appealed to the appellate court seeking relief from the order of referral to arbitration of the trial court.  In her submission to the appellate court, the Wife made four separate arguments:

1. The Islamic Prenuptial Agreement is void on grounds of contravening public policy, as the agreement clearly disavows Texas law and the laws of the United States, and replaces those with Islamic Law, which, according to the Wife's submission, "limits the rights of a woman to obtain a divorce," in violation of Equal Protection, the Establishment Clause, and Due Process, given the different weights assigned by Islamic law to official testimony from women compared to men.

2. The Islamic Prenuptial Agreement is void as a matter of Texas contract law because the agreement was involuntarily executed.

3. The trial court abused its discretion in finding that the Islamic Prenuptial Agreement stipulated to arbitration, as the agreement does not contain evidence of a meeting of the minds as regards an intent to arbitrate.  The agreement's mention of a "fiqh panel" or a "Muslim court" cannot unequivocally be read as an agreement to arbitrate.

4. Relatedly, the trial court also abused its discretion in referring the dispute to arbitration without allowing the Wife to present meaningful evidence refuting the existence of an alleged agreement to arbitrate.

The case is pending before the Texas appellate court.

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