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Supreme Court's groundbreaking verdict: women can reclaim expenses made during marriage

Lamya Abdulla
01 June 2023, MVT 10:22
[File] Photo of Supreme Court of Maldives: SC Judge Mahaz ruled women can sue for money they spent on a marriage as it is the man's responsibility to financially take care of the wife in a marriage according to Islamic values -- Photo: Mihaaru
Lamya Abdulla
01 June 2023, MVT 10:22

Supreme Court of Maldives, on Wednesday May 31 issued a ruling stating that money spent by a wife during marriage can be recovered even after the couple divorces.

The ruling came in response to a case where a woman sought to recover her investment in a property that her former husband received in Dhaalu atoll Kudahuvadhoo. The woman had partially funded a plot of land with the understanding that it would be jointly registered in both their names.

The woman filed to recover the approximate cost of MVR 1.2 million she had spent on the house after her ex-husband denied her request of giving part of the house to the two children the couple had from that marriage.

The woman appealed this case in the Supreme Court after the Kudahuvadhoo Magistrate and High Court ruled against her. Supreme Court Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir started the hearing of the case with a reference to Ayat 21 from Surah Ar-Rum, emphasizing the significance of the marriage contract.

"Marriage contract is a noble agreement. The basis for the continuation of this agreement is the mutual trust and friendship between the spouses. Or love and affection," the judge said.

Judge Mahaz said that the marriage contract is not an ordinary contract and unlike other agreements, the Quran outlines the responsibilities of the parties involved. Specifically, he noted that according to the Quran, it is the husband's responsibility to provide for and take care of his wife. However, he said that it is permissible for both the husband and wife to spend on each other as well.

Taking note of the manner in which the case took place, the court observed that the woman's interests were also involved in the land acquired by the man. This is because if a couple gets a plot of land, there is a policy in place to give land to one of them and the man would have gotten additional points because he was married as well.

This is due to an existing policy that grants land to only one member of a couple. The man had also received points because he was married as well.

During the court proceedings, the husband said that his then wife had contributed towards repaying the loan he took out to construct the house, and that it is difficult to state a definite amount that she had spent. However, the woman had submitted evidence in the form of documents to substantiate the amount she had spent. The man contended that the expenses incurred by the woman were not formally documented as repayable.

The ruling, however, said that it was not mandatory to have a legally binding agreement in order to recover the cost spent by a participant of the agreement, or the rights entitled to the participant before reaching an agreement.

"In this situation, it is mandatory for the trial court to prove the expenses had incurred and that it benefitted the other party in the agreement. It stated that failure to recover the costs would result in undue advantage for the other party." the judgment said.

The man's main defense was around the concern that if a ruling was made requiring him to repay the amount spent by the woman during their marriage, it could set a precedent for future cases seeking large sums. He argued that this would lead to significant injustice. On the other hand, it was contended that while Islamic law obligates the husband to provide for his wife, the man failed to prove that the expenses incurred by the wife were given to him in a manner that did not require repayment, in the form of a gift or voluntary contributions. However, the man had insisted that the payments were made on the basis of gifts.

Justice Mahaz's verdict supported by Justice Dr. Azmiralda Zahir and Justice Aisha Shujoon Mohamed, thereby declared the Kudahuvadhoo Court and the High Court's verdict as null and void. Additionally, it was ruled that the building involved in the case should be valued, and half of the cost should go to the wife. This task was delegated to the Kudahuvadhoo Court.

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