In new amendments, Shariah courts to lose say on civil marriages

The amendment Bill, which was tabled this morning in Dewan Rakyat, will enable Muslim converts to petition the civil courts for divorce. — Photo by Saw Siow Feng
The amendment Bill, which was tabled this morning in Dewan Rakyat, will enable Muslim converts to petition the civil courts for divorce. — Photo by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — Only civil courts will have the power to determine civil marriages even if one spouse converts to Islam, under proposed amendments to the Law and Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) 2016.

The amendment Bill, which was tabled this morning in Dewan Rakyat, will enable Muslim converts to petition the civil courts for divorce.

Previously, Muslim converts were required to do so via the Shariah courts, leading to the jurisdictional conflicts between the two parallel legal systems.

This was further complicated by the fact that Shariah courts only recognised the Muslim applicant, and not the non-Muslim spouse.

"A conflict will arise when both spouses make an application to two different courts," the proposed amendment said.

As such, while the Shariah Courts can grant an order for divorce and ancillary relief, it does not dissolve the civil marriage.

"The power to dissolve the civil marriage under Act 164 is only given to the civil court," it said.

The Bill also proposes to ban unilateral child conversions that, along with the conflicts between the civil and Shariah courts, had led to the high-profile interfaith custody battles of M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa with their Muslim convert ex-husbands.

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