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A prenuptial agreement is a prenuptial agreement -- even if it goes by a different name.

That's basically what a judge decided when asked to rule whether a Detroit man was obligated to pay his divorced wife $50,000. The money was part of the couple's marital agreement, which was established as a type of contract prior to their wedding. Termed a "mahr," it is a payment of money or goods from an Islamic groom to the bride -- which then becomes her private property even in the event of a divorce.

Apparently, when the couple divorced, the husband felt that the $50,000 was part of the marital goods and not the bride's individual property. The divorce court disagreed, so the husband appealed on the basis that the court shouldn't be trying to impose its authority over what is basically a religious matter.

The appeals court also disagreed. The appeals court stated that the original decision applied the principles of common contract law when deciding the case. The neutral principles make the decision valid -- essentially treating the mahr like any prenuptial agreement (which is merely a contract between a couple made prior to marriage).

Most prenuptial agreements are designed to settle issues related to the division of property if a couple divorces, so this doesn't seem like a far stretch for the court. It does, however, set a precedent for Michigan courts (and possibly beyond) that judges, divorce attorneys and divorcing couples should be conscious off prior to litigating the issue.

Regardless of your situation, it's always wisest to consult with an attorney before you initiate a divorce if you suspect that a complex property issue could be problematic -- particularly when there is any kind of prenuptial agreement involved.

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