Egyptian MarriageWhat happens when cultural and religious traditions clash with the presumptions underlying New York’s Equitable Distribution Law, negating the concept that a marriage is an economic partnership? To what extent should those traditions impact New York Law affecting long-term marriages?

In the March, 2017 case, Yehia v. Goma, the parties had been married in 1977 in Egypt in both civil and religious ceremonies, and resided in New York since 1992, (although the wife returned to Egypt between 2008 until 2011). They had three adult children.

During the trial, the parties entered into two stipulations: one resolving the isues of properties held in Egypt; the second addressing the division of the sale proceeds of the marital residence in New York, and the wife’s claim for counsel fees. As a result of the two stipulations, the issues left open for decision included equitable distribution of pension and 401(k) Plan assets, maintenance, and credits against Equitable Distribution.

Westchester County Supreme Court Justice Victor G. Grossman recognized that a significant issue affecting the claims of credits arises from how the parties managed their economic spheres during the marriage. He noted that the parties both remained Egyptian citizens and had led a devout life and marriage in accordance with Islamic Law. Both parties’ actions had been consistent with their religious and/or cultural traditions.


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When making a decision in custody matters, the primary concern is the best interests of the child. The courts may consider religion as one of the factors in determining the best interests of a child, but religion alone may not be the determinative factor. New York courts will consider religion in a custody dispute when

New York’s Domestic Relations Law §25, enacted in 1907, provides that a marriage is valid, even in the absence of a marriage license, if it was properly solemnized. However, New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper, in his May 29, 2014 decision in Ponorovskaya v. Stecklow held that D.R.L. §25 could not be used to validate a marriage ceremony that failed to meet the  legal requirements of Mexico where the ceremony was performed. While so holding, Justice Cooper called for the statute to be amended or repealed, and joined the debate on whether Universal Life Church “ministers” could “properly solemnize” marriages.

Justice Cooper’s recitation of the facts merits quotation:

[Ms. Ponorovskaya], who is a clothing designer and business owner in Manhattan, and [Mr. Stecklow], a lawyer, began their relationship in 2004. While in Mexico for a 2009 New Year’s celebration, [Mr. Stecklow] proposed to [Ms. Ponorovskaya] overlooking the Mayan ruins in Tulum. The parties subsequently planned a Mexican destination wedding at the Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa. . . . On February 18th, the couple had a wedding ceremony on the resort’s beach. The ceremony was performed under a chuppah, a canopy under which a couple stands during a Jewish wedding. Certain Hebrew prayers were recited, vows were exchanged, and there was a glass-breaking ritual, as is customary at Jewish weddings.

Despite these traditions, the ceremony was not performed by a rabbi. Instead it was conducted by [Mr. Stecklow]’s cousin, Dr. Keith Arbeitman, a dentist who lives in New York. In 2003, in order to perform a marriage for friends, he became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (“ULC”), a distinction easily achieved by paying a fee on the ULC’s website. . . . [A]t oral argument on the motion, [Ms. Ponorovskaya]’s counsel produced a certificate that he printed off the internet certifying that Dr. Arbeitman is indeed a minister in good standing with the ULC. Likewise, during the ceremony Dr. Arbeitman told the audience, “I am an ordained minister — this will be a legal union.”


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Increasingly, courts have closely examined the specific decision-making roles of each parent, whether or not the parties share joint custody or one parent is awarded sole custody.

The general rule is that joint or shared custody, requiring both parents to agree on decisions, is inappropriate where parents have demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to cooperate