Court decision could expand scope of marriage in NC
Posted December 7, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — People need to take greater care in getting divorced in North Carolina than they do to get married, according to the state Court of Appeals.
In a 2-1 ruling issued Tuesday, the court ruled that a marriage can be considered valid in the state even if the couple doesn't have a license and the ceremony is handled by someone other than a minister or justice of the peace.
"This is a very significant ruling," said Lisa Angel, a divorce attorney for Raleigh's Rosen Law Firm.
The case arose from the end of Juma Mussa's 12-year marriage to Nikki Palmer-Mussa. He wanted their marriage annulled, ending his alimony payments, on the grounds of bigamy.
Before marrying Mussa in 1997, Nikki Palmer had married Khalil Braswell in Maryland under Islamic law. They had no license and were married by a construction worker who was Braswell's friend.
She said the marriage was never consummated, and she soon ended it under Islamic law by returning the dowry and declaring herself divorced.
The appeals court ruled that, even though her ceremony to Braswell "failed to meet statutory requirements," Palmer-Mussa still needed to get a judge to grant her a divorce or annul the marriage.
Because she was already married, the court voided her marriage to Mussa, which has produced three children.
"I just hate to see 13 years mean nothing," she said Wednesday. "It's not about the money, you know. It's principle."
Angel, who isn't involved in the case, said the ruling changes the legal landscape in North Carolina by expanding the definition of marriage.
"There potentially are going to be more divorces or annulments as a result of this because people, before they get married, need to think twice now," she said.
The case won't affect the dispute over gay marriage in North Carolina, she said, because state law already bans same-sex marriages.
Palmer-Mussa represented herself in the appeal because she didn't have the money to hire an attorney, but she said she hopes to get some legal representation for a possible appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court.