Proposed reform law will allow kins to have assets of deceased converts

KUALA LUMPUR: The proposed marriage reform law will not just allow a converted spouse rights to claim ancillary relief in a civil court, but will also allow the person's next-of-kin to have the matrimonial assets if the convert dies before the civil marriage is dissolved.

Recapping the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (LRA), which was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat today, the law if passed, will only apply to new cases after the amended law is enforced.

The government proposed the amendments as a measure to address issues arising when a spouse converts to Islam.

"This Bill seeks to give the right to the converting spouse to file a petition for divorce to dissolve his civil marriage under subsection 51(1) of the Act.

"Currently, the law does not give the spouse who has converted to Islam the right to file a petition for divorce in the civil court under the Act as the right to dissolve the marriage is only given to the spouse who has not converted to Islam," the bill explained.

This means, as long as the non-Muslim spouse does not file for a divorce in the civil court, their civil marriage is deemed valid and continuous under the law.

"Since the spouse who has converted to Islam does not have the right to file a petition for divorce under the Act, he does not have the right to make an application for other ancillary relief such as maintenance, custody of children, division of matrimonial assets and etc.

"This situation causes hardship to the converting spouse since the Act does not provide remedies for them and some of them seek to find other remedies by filing an application for a divorce and other ancillary relief in the Syariah Court," the bill stated.

Although the Syariah Court in this case may order for a divorce and ancillary relief, it however does not have power to dissolve a civil marriage at any point.

The power to dissolve a civil marriage under the Act is only given to the civil court.

Thus, the proposed amendments to the LRA will prevent such conflicts, where both spouses make an application in two different courts — civil and Syariah courts.

A new section in the bill under Clause 51A is proposed to ensure that the next-of-kin (interested parties) of the converting spouse, who subsequently dies before the civil marriage is dissolved, shall be entitled to the matrimonial assets.

The interested parties described in the bill means the surviving spouse and children of the marriage, if any, and the parents of the deceased convert.