KUALA LUMPUR: The amended version of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 will grant equal rights to file for divorce in a civil court to Muslim converts whose civil marriages have not been dissolved.
The bill is expected to be tabled by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said for its first reading in Parliament today.
The bill is meant to resolve problems that arise when one of the spouses in a marriage converts to Islam.
At present, a Muslim convert is unable to file for divorce (from a non-Muslim spouse) under the Islamic Family Law Act or Enactment.
This is because if the issue to be decided involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the jurisdiction does not lie with the Syariah Court.
As such, the Muslim spouse is unable to file for divorce in a civil court and is deprived of ancillary relief such as maintenance and custody of children.
The spouse would need to go up to the Syariah Court instead, which can make its own order pertaining to divorce and other ancillary relief.
The bill was supposed to be tabled yesterday but was deferred at the eleventh hour.
The amended bill will be tabled with an exclusion of Clause 88A, which states that the religion of the child should remain the same despite the conversion of either parent.
Azalina said the fresh amendments would also be in line with the courts’ decisions on the interpretation of the Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, which states that the religion of a person under the age of 18 shall be decided by the parent or a guardian.
Section 51 (1) of the Act will be amended by removing the clause: “Where one party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the other party who has not so converted may petition for divorce”.
The amendment will see a new section, Section 51 (1) and (2), which allow "either party" or "both parties" to file a divorce petition.
Section 51A will also enable the next-of-kin of a Muslim convert to be entitled to matrimonial assets in the event that the converted person passed away before the dissolution of the civil marriage.
Under Clause 3 of the bill, mothers and adopted mothers will have equal rights as the fathers in consenting to a marriage for a person under 21 years old.
The bill was tabled by the government in November last year to put in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversions of minors to Islam.