PM: Civil courts will have precedence in interfaith divorces

Najib said the government will table a Bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 in Parliament in October. — Picture by Choo
Najib said the government will table a Bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 in Parliament in October. — Picture by Choo

PUTRAJAYA, Aug 25 — The civil courts will have precedence in mediating divorce and child custody cases involving spouses who convert to Islam after marriage, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced today.

He said the government will table a Bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 in Parliament in October.

"I believe this is a just move that is in line with what Islam demands of us," Najib said in his speech at the government' Women's Day Celebration here.

Najib said that the amendment to the law would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and Shariah courts.

"The decision was made after demands were made that we resolve the problem...If the couple is married under civil law, then we should settle the divorce under civil law," he said.

Today's announcement follows Najib's assertion in May that his Cabinet is looking into ways to resolve interfaith child custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents.

At that time, Najib was weighing in on the high-profile case of Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi and her Muslim convert ex-spouse, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, who have been battling each other in the courts for custody of their youngest child, Prasana Diksa.

The case triggered backlash from the minorities and prompted calls for Putrajaya to provide a solution.

The Pekan MP said today his Cabinet unanimously agreed that the amendment to the marriage law was the right thing to do.

"I, the deputy prime minister and the Cabinet all agreed that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 amendment be tabled in the next Parliament sitting".

The Cabinet decided in 2009 to bar the unilateral conversion of children, but the proposed legal amendments to enforce this were later shelved following the intervention from the Conference of Rulers hours before they could be tabled in Parliament.

Putrajaya had then proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 to ensure that issues like child support and custody would be determined by the court in which the marriage had been registered in, regardless if one spouse embraces another religion later on.

Then de facto law minister Nancy Shukri told Malay Mail Online last January that the government was planning amendments to those three laws and had hoped they would be tabled soon.