PARLIAMENT A Bill proposing extensive legal amendments to resolve problems arising from divorce and child custody issues after a spouse has converted to Islam has been tabled today.
This follows a number of high profile custody battles between a non-Muslim spouse and a spouse who converted to Islam after their marriage under civil law.
According to the explanatory notes of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2016, the amendments will allow a spouse who had converted to Islam the right to file for divorce in a civil court.
The Bill will seek to amend Section 51 (1) of the Act, removing a clause that reads: "Where one party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the other party who has not so converted may petition for divorce".
A new Section 51 (1) and (2) will allow "either party" or "both parties" to file a divorce petition. The words of Section 3 will also be amended to achieve similar effect.
According to the Bill's explanatory notes, since the law presently does not allow the spouse who has converted to Islam the right seek a divorce under civil law, some converting spouses would seek relief and remedies in the Syariah Court.
"A conflict will arise where both spouses make an application in two different courts i.e. the civil court and the Syariah Court and both Courts make different orders," read the note.
Religion of child
The Bill seeks to include a new provision that stipulates that the religion of any child of the civil marriage shall maintain the same religion even if one spouse converts to Islam, with a caveat.
"... except where both parties to the marriage agree to a conversion of the child to Islam, subject always to the wishes of the child where he or she has attained the age of eighteen years," read the new Section 88A(1).
Amendments to Section 12(1) sought to confer equal rights to the mother or adopted mother of a person below 21 years of age in giving consent for marriage, similar to that given to the father.
The Bill also seeks to introduce a new provision (Section 51A) that will allow the next-of-kin of a person converting to Islam, who subsequently dies before the marriage under civil law is dissolved, the right to inherit matrimonial assets.
Putrajaya had, for a long time, promised legal reforms to resolve problems arising from custody issues between non-Muslims and Muslim converts.
One of the most prominent case involves M Indira Gandhi who is currently fighting a legal battle for custody of her youngest child.
Indira Gandhi had managed to nullify the conversion of her three Hindu children to Islam. Her former husband had unilaterally converted them to Islam.- Mkini