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Navigating an Arabic and Muslim Divorce (or “Talaq”) in Virginia

Are you considering divorcing your spouse, or have you been served with divorce papers in Virginia?

Arabs, South Asians and other Muslim-American couples face unique cultural and legal challenges when separating or divorcing. That is why it is crucial to hire an attorney who understands the complexities of the Arabic or Islamic culture, divorce, and the legal requirements in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Attorneys Tania Klam and Komal H. Khan of Roop Xanttopoulos Babounakis & Klam PLLC both have extensive experience helping Arab, South Asian and other Muslim-American clients with divorce in Virginia. In addition, whereas Ms. Klam is half Lebanese and half Syrian, Ms. Khan was born and raised in Pakistan. While Ms. Klam is a native speaker of Arabic, Ms. Khan fluently speaks Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Furthermore, Ms. Klam is a proud member of the Arab American Bar Association and the National Arab American Bar Association, whereas Ms. Khan is a proud of a member of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Both Attorney Klam and Khan have a firm grasp on the cultural challenges involved in Muslim divorces as well as divorces amongst Arabs, Middle Eastern and South Asian individuals and have the skills to protect your parenting and property rights as you navigate the divorce process. They can help you understand the binding effect of promises made at Islamic wedding ceremonies, Islamic law, Arab culture, and the impact that Commonwealth laws (such as equitable distribution) could have on your divorce.

If you are an Arab, Arabic speaking, South Asian and/or Muslim-American seeking separation or divorce from your spouse in Virginia, contact Attorneys Tania Klam or Komal Khan of Roop Xanttopoulos Babounakis & Klam PLLC for a consultation today.

Special Considerations for Arabs and Divorces

When Arabs and/or individuals who practice the Islamic faith, are seeking a divorce, there are special considerations that must be taken into account, such as cultural traditions and norms that some individuals may want to adhere to. Those who have entered into an Islamic marriage may also claim to promises made in religious ceremonies or cultural promises they depended on. Some unique challenges that can arise during the divorce process include:

1. Culture

In Islam, in order to be divorced, the husband must tell his wife three times of his intention to divorce her. Thereafter, the wife must observe a waiting period of approximately three months to be sure that she

is not pregnant. Once the three months have expired, the parties may proceed forward with the division of their property as detailed by Shari’ah law. Similarly, the wife has the option of “Khul” in which she may separate from the husband according to Shari’ah law. After the expiration of said periods, under Islamic law, the couples are deemed to be divorced. On the other hand, in Virginia, marriage is a secular institution, and all couples, regardless of religious beliefs, must go through the courts to obtain a valid, lawful divorce.

If your spouse ended the marriage under Islamic traditions or Shari’ah law, but not under the applicable U.S. law, you may still have specific property rights, and our attorneys can help you safeguard those rights.

2. Mahr

In Islamic law, mahr (or “dowry”) is a gift made by the husband-to-be to his wife-to-be as a mark of respect for the bride, and as recognition of her financial independence. It is not, however, a gift in the traditional sense, but is in fact obligatory and the wife-to-be receives it as a right. A mahr requires an agreed-upon sum or other asset or property to be paid or transferred from the groom to the bride, either on a specified date, on the occurrence of a specified event, or without any date or event specified. It is important to know that the mahr is not a “price” that the groom pays for the bride, but rather, it is given with the intention is that this will be the wife’s separate property, and protected from any claims made by the husband.

In most cases, the mahr is written on the marriage certificate (or “Nikahnama”) during a traditional Nikah ceremony and then signed by the Imam officiating the ceremony. These “contracts” for the mahr have great significance in the United States and more specifically in Virginia. In Virginia, the court have several chances to interpret such contracts and have treated them as prenuptial agreements. Therefore, if the husband refuses to pay the agreed upon mahr, the Nikahnama, based on the circumstances of each specific case, can be used to force the husband to offer up the promised amount. If the husband does not have access to liquid funds, the Court can order that the mahr be recovered from other property, 401k accounts, revenue from the sale of other assets, etc.

Even if certain assets are in your husband’s sole name, such as your house and cars, you are entitled to a portion of the marital property under Virginia law, and we can help you retain your fair share. Virginia courts use an “equitable distribution” model to divide property between divorcing spouses. This means that courts must divide marital property between the two parties in a fair and just way.

We understand Islamic and/or Middle Eastern culture and the desire to respect long-standing religious traditions. We also understand that many Arabs, Middle-Easterns and/or Muslim-Americans feel ashamed when pursuing divorces as they may be viewed as unacceptable or “taboo” in the culture. They are concerned about bringing shame on their families or being shamed by others in their communities. If you have these concerns, we could also help you pursue alternatives to divorce, such as a Complaint for Separate Maintenance. Through Separate Maintenance, you can get the financial support you need without going through a formal divorce. You could even obtain custody or visitation rights and retain marital property without officially divorcing.

Our team will fight on your behalf to enforce your legal rights in the Commonwealth.

Prenuptial Agreements

For those about to be married, Attorneys Tania Klam and Komal Khan can help draft a suitable Prenuptial Agreement that protects your assets should the marriage end in divorce. If your soon-to-be spouse presents you with a Prenuptial Agreement, Attorneys Klam and Khan can offer you knowledgeable advice regarding Virginia law, inform you of your legal rights, and help you determine whether you are getting a fair deal or not.

It is impossible to make informed decisions regarding your marriage or divorce unless you understand all of your legal rights. That is why we highly recommend speaking to our firm before you sign anything, whether it be a Prenuptial Agreement, Post-Nuptial agreement, an agreement created during the marriage that details the division of the assets if there is a separation, or other settlement agreement. Our team will review the document to ensure your rights are protected.

How We Can Help

Consulting with an attorney who understands the Arab culture, Middle Eastern or Islamic traditions, and/or the different religions and faiths in the Middle East, Prenuptial Agreements, mahr (dowries), and the logistics of separating or divorcing in Virginia is of paramount importance for Middle Eastern and/or Arab/Arabic and other Muslim-Americans couples seeking a divorce. Contact Roop Xanttopoulos Babounakis & Klam PLLC today to schedule a consultation with our native Arabic speaking Attorney Tania Klam or Urdu speaking Attorney Komal Khan.

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