KUALA LUMPUR: Any spouse from a civil marriage who becomes a Muslim will no longer be allowed to unilaterally convert the children to Islam, under amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act.
A new section will be introduced to make it clear that the children’s faith will remain that of the religion of both parents prior to the conversion.
Any conversion to Islam of children below age 18 will be allowed only if both parents agree to it. Otherwise, the children decide their own faith once they turn 18.
The amendments were tabled for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
It came about after a number of contentious cases, including one where a Hindu wife faced custody battles and a multitude of problems when her husband became a Muslim and converted their children.
These amendments, which will have a retrospective effect once the Bill is passed, will be debated next year as the current meeting will end on Thursday.
In cases where both spouses are of different religions prior to one of them converting to Islam, the proposed Section 88A states that the children “shall be at liberty to remain in the religion of either parent”. The amendments will also allow the new convert to file for divorce to dissolve the civil marriage.
“Currently, the law does not give the spouse who has converted to Islam the right to file for divorce in civil court, as the right is only given to the spouse who has not converted to Islam,” the Bill stated.
It also stated that the spouse who converted to Islam cannot apply for divorce under the Islamic Family Law Act/Enactment because the Syariah Court does not have jurisdiction to hear cases involving non-Muslims.
“A conflict will arise where both spouses make an application in two different courts, i.e. civil and Syariah, and both make different orders,” it said.
Although the Syariah Court can grant an order for divorce and ancillary relief, it “does not dissolve the civil marriage” because that power is only given to the civil court.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who first announced the legal reforms in August, said that divorce matters involving civil marriages must be settled in a civil court, even if one of the spouses converts to Islam.
“The amendments are meant to resolve any dispute between civil and Syariah courts when a spouse embraces Islam,” he said.
The Bill also seeks to introduce a section which ensures the next-of-kin of the person converting to Islam, if he or she dies before the non-Muslim marriage is dissolved, is entitled to matrimonial assets.
“In making the distribution, the court shall have regard to the extent of the contributions made towards the acquisition of assets, debts owing, duration of the marriage and needs of the children,” it stated.