A California Court Will Not Enforce a Foreign Dowry Agreement that Benefits a Party Who Initiates Dissolution of the Marriage

Husband and Wife married by proxy in Jordan in 1982.  At that time, Husband lived in the United States.  Wife later joined him in Orange County in 1983, and the couple married in a civil ceremony.  Wife sought a divorce in 1985 in the Orange County Superior Court, and the divorce court focused on Husband’s obligation, per the terms of the foreign proxy marriage contract, to pay Wife’s dowry.

Wife testified that the contract called for a dowry of 3,000 Jordanian dinars, plus an additional 2,000 dinars in cash or household furniture.  Per custom and according to Wife’s expert, Wife received a token payment of one dinar on the dowry at the time of the marriage by proxy, and the balance was not due until the marriage was dissolved or Husband died.  In the case of a divorce, the sum was due no matter which party initiated the divorce.

Husband admitted he authorized the proxy contract, but asserted Wife misrepresented the sum owed.  Husband’s expert testified that Wife forfeited her right to a dowry if she initiated the dissolution proceedings.

The Orange County Superior Court ruled that there was a valid dowry, but that the dowry was forfeited because Wife had initiated the termination of the marriage.  Wife’s divorce lawyer appealed, arguing Husband’s expert was not qualified.  The Court of Appeal in Orange County affirmed.

Premarital agreements that are promotive of divorce or separation by providing for a settlement only in the event of a divorce or separation are void as against public policy.  Here, per Wife’s evidence, the Jordanian marriage contract must be considered as one designed to be promotive of divorce.  Excepting the token payment (worth $0.33 at the time), Wife was not entitled to receive any of the agreed-upon sum unless the marriage was dissolved or Husband died.  The contract clearly provided for Wife to profit by a divorce, and a California court cannot enforce such an agreement.

In re Marriage of Dajani (1988) 204 Cal. App. 3d 1387