Indian Gold Jewelry, Islamic Mahr, and Divorce
In my family law practice, I have clients from all ethnic backgrounds and religious groups including many from the Middle East and India. Marriage rituals in those regions are often elaborate multi-day celebrations with lavish feasts, displays of wealth and exchanges of jewelry.
Exchange of Jewelry is a Tradition in Most CulturesExpensive jewelry plays a role in Western societies too, including America. Engagement customs almost always include a proposal with a (preferably large and valuable) diamond ring.
Why is gold jewelry such a valued tradition in Middle Eastern and especially Indian marriage culture? It seems it stems from a focus on security and stability for the future, and providing a secure and prosperous environment for the future generations. Gold traditionally has always been a highly valued metal, because it is "liquid cash". It rarely ever depreciates in value and can easily be traded and exchanged for other items of value.
In Islamic Mahr (or Mehrieh) agreements, gold coins or jewelry are often included. In an Iranian Mahr case I handled recently, the deferred gift was 100 Bahar Azadi coins. At the time of marriage, they were valued at around $10,000. At the time of the divorce, they were worth over $100,000!
Gold is valued because it can be a source of quick cash. Gold jewelry (often pricy 24 carat gold) is a safe and traditional way of saving and transferring wealth from one generation to the other while also giving a gift to a loved one. In many families, gold is purchased starting at birth. For daughters, gold can be used as a dowry. For the family and community, gold is seen as symbol of social status, good luck, prosperity, and well being and is of great cultural importance. There is also a religious significance, as it represents the goddess Maha Lakshmi. Hindu gods are also fond of gold, all the important Hindu deities are decorated with gold.
Jewelry and DivorceI am handling a number of Indian and Bangladeshi divorce cases right now, and interestingly enough, they seem to have a unique aspect in common: the main issue of contention seems to be the whereabouts of the gold jewelry that was exchanged at the wedding. In a classic "he said, she said" scenario, the husband and the wife in each of these cases are claiming that the other party has the jewelry. In one case, the wife is saying that her gold bangles (gifted from her mother's sister) are in the possession of the husband's mother. In another case, the wife is claiming that she kept her wedding jewelry in the joint safe deposit box, but it has "gone missing". No police reports or insurance claims have ever been filed. No proof exists about the actual location of the jewelry.
Who to believe? And how exactly do the courts deal with "missing jewelry" in a divorce case? This is a very common issue, problematic whether we are talking Indian gold, a diamond engagement ring, a Cartier watch, or cash.
Remedies and Legal StrategyPossession is nine tenths of the law, as they say. Without credible eyewitness or videotaped evidence, it is impossible for a court to determine who had the jewelry last. For this reason, divorce attorneys caution their clients to safeguard their jewelry and valuables if the marriage is on shaky ground. Jewelry and cash are often the first items to go missing, and there is very little recourse without evidence.