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In Ravasizadeh, the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a judgment awarding the wife one-half of the appreciated value in the husband’s real estate in Tehran, which was inherited prior to the marriage and had not become a “fabric of the marriage.” The Appeals Court found, however, under the doctrine of comity, that the trial court erred when it ordered the husband to pay the wife under their mahr when that matter was the subject of a separate action in Iran.
The parties were married in 2000 according to Iranian custom, including the negotiation and execution of a “mahr” or marriage contract that, in this case, required the husband to pay the wife 700 gold coins. The parties enjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle until their separation in 2012 and had one child. After filing her complaint for divorce in Massachusetts, the wife filed an action in Irian to enforce the mahr. Prior to judgment in the divorce trial, the court in Iran found in the wife’s favor and required the husband to pay the 700 gold coins per the mahr. At the time of the divorce trial in Massachusetts, the husband had a pending appeal in Iran. Both parties testified at trial in Massachusetts. The husband testified that the purpose of a mahr is to provide financial support to the wife and under Iranian law, the proceeds of the mahr are “the only financial money that can be recovered from a divorce and three months of alimony.” The wife testified only that the mahr is “a gift that the groom gives the bride.” In the judgment of divorce, the trial court ordered the husband to pay into the court in Iran the value of the 700 gold coins to satisfy the judgment. The trial court then considered those coins to be assets owned by the wife and part of the marital estate subject to a division of assets. The trial court further ordered that in the event the Iranian judgment is reversed that the husband pay the wife one-half of the value of the money to satisfy the liability.
Further, the husband had intertied real estate in Tehran prior to the marriage, which included rental property which was managed by the husband’s mother, who also received all of the rental income from the property. Although the trial court found that the property was “never incorporated into the fabric of the marriage,” the wife was awarded one-half of the appreciation in value that occurred during the marriage.
The husband appealed the judgment of divorce, arguing that the court erred by awarding the wife any portion of his inherited property in Tehran. The Appeals Court upheld the judgment, finding that marital property may include assets that were inherited prior to the marriage (quoting from Williams v. Massa, 431 Mass. 619 (2000), “a party’s’ ‘estate’ includes all property to which a party holds title, however acquired”). Further, the Court affirmed that “[o]nce part of the marital estate, the judge then has broad discretion to determine how to divide the entire estate equitably….”
The husband further argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to order him to pay one-half of the value of the 700 gold coins in the event the Iranian judgment was reversed. As the enforceability of a mahr had not yet been addressed in Massachusetts, the Appeals Court examined the holdings in other jurisdictions. In Marriage of Obaidi & Qayoum, 154 Wash. App. 609 (2010) and Odatalla v. Odatalla, 355 N.J. Super. 305 (2002), both Washington and New Jersey courts found that it did not violate the separation of church and state if the enforceability of a mahr could be decided on neutral principals of law. It was determined that the mahr was simply a contract between two consenting adults and was not against public policy. The Massachusetts Appeals Court found the argument persuasive and determined that the court need “not look beyond the agreement to determine the role of the mahr under Islamic law…” However, the Court found that, in this case, the parties had submitted to the jurisdiction of the Iranian court and had not sought the enforcement of the mahr in Massachusetts. Massachusetts courts generally defer to judgments from other countries as a matter of comity. As a result, the Court found it was error for the trial court to order the husband to pay the mahr to the wife in the event that that the Iranian judgment was reversed.