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Matter of Farraj – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Matter of Farraj (72 AD3d 1082, 900 NYS2d 340 [2010]), the petitioner and decedent participated in a formal marriage ceremony in accordance with Islamic law in 2003, at the home of the petitioner's brother in Clifton, New Jersey.

Prior to the marriage ceremony, the decedent was a resident of New York and the petitioner lived at her brother's residence in New Jersey. An imam (Islamic clergyman) came from New York to New Jersey to solemnize the marriage.

However, a marriage license was not obtained. The decedent and the petitioner lived together in New York until the decedent's death in July 2007.

The decedent died intestate and letters of administration were issued to the appellant, the decedent's son from a prior marriage. Subsequently, the petitioner filed a petition to compel an accounting of the decedent's estate.

The appellant moved to dismiss the petition pursuant to CPLR 3211 (a) (3) on the ground that the petitioner lacked standing as a surviving spouse, since her marriage to the decedent was invalid under New Jersey law. (Matter of Farraj, 72 AD3d at 1083.)

In Farraj, the Surrogate's Court, Kings County held that New York law should be applied as New York had the "most significant relationship to the spouses and the marriage." (Id. at 1084.)

The Surrogate's Court held that despite the couple not procuring a valid marriage license, the marriage itself was valid in New York because "[t]he petitioner and the decedent had a justified expectation that they were married, since they participated in a formal marriage ceremony in accordance with Islamic law" (id.).

The court went on to further define their "justified expectation," stating the couple "believed themselves married, had an expectation that they were married, and believed that their marriage ceremony had resulted in a valid marriage." (Matter of Farraj, 23 Misc 3d 1109[A], 886 NYS2d 67, 2009 NY Slip Op 50684[U] [Sur Ct, Kings County 2009].)

The Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed that "the petitioner and the decedent had a justified expectation that they were married, since they participated in a formal marriage ceremony in accordance with Islamic law." (Farraj, 72 AD3d at 1084.)