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In re Marriage of Turfe

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division

May 30, 2018

In re the Marriage of SUMMER and ROBERT TURFE.
v.
ROBERT TURFE, Appellant. SUMMER TURFE, Respondent,

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Super. Ct. No. BD561532 Christine Byrd and Michael E. Whitaker, Judges. Affirmed.

          Law Offices of Marjorie G. Fuller and Marjorie G. Fuller; Freid and Goldsman and Marci R. Levine; Turfe Law and Edward M. Turfe for Appellant.

          Honey Kessler Amado for Respondent.

          EDMON, P. J.

         Robert Turfe (husband) appeals a judgment of dissolution of marriage as to status only. The judgment terminated his marriage to Summer Turfe (wife) and reserved jurisdiction over all other issues.[1]

         Husband contends the trial court erred in denying his request for an annulment. He asserts wife defrauded him by falsely promising at the time of the marriage to be bound by the “mahr agreement” that they entered into in accordance with Islamic law.[2] The parties' mahr agreement provided that wife would receive a copy of the Quran in the event of a divorce. The parties disagree as to whether the mahr agreement precluded wife from obtaining any other property in the event of a divorce, and the expert testimony at trial was in conflict with respect to the proper interpretation of the mahr agreement.

         Following a bifurcated trial, the trial court concluded that it was not persuaded by clear and convincing evidence that wife had intentionally misrepresented her intention to be bound by the mahr agreement in order to induce husband to enter into the marriage. Instead, the trial court found that the parties simply had different interpretations of the mahr agreement, which they did not discuss with one another, and that husband made the assumption that wife shared his interpretation of the agreement.

         We conclude substantial evidence supports the trial court's determination, and we therefore uphold the trial court's decision which denied husband's request for an annulment based on fraud, and instead, entered a judgment of dissolution of marriage.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The parties were married in 2000. Their first child was born in 2002, and their second child was born in 2005.

         1. Pleadings.

         In March 2012, wife filed a petition for marital dissolution.

         In May 2012, husband filed a response to the petition, claiming as his separate property his post-separation earnings and accumulations, [3] as well as other separate property assets not yet known. He also pled “[t]here are community and quasi-community assets and obligations of the parties, the exact nature and extent of which are unknown to [him] at the present time.”

         In January 2014, husband filed an amended response to the petition, requesting an annulment of the marriage based on fraud, and requesting specific performance of the mahr agreement. Husband's amended response denied the existence of any community property and requested that all his earnings and accumulations during the purported marriage be confirmed as his separate property.

         2. Bifurcated trial on the issues of nullity of marriage and validity and enforceability of the mahr agreement as a premarital agreement.

         The matter proceeded to a bifurcated trial on the issues of whether husband was entitled to an annulment, and whether the mahr agreement was a valid and enforceable premarital agreement that would limit the property to which wife would be entitled in the event of a divorce.

         In seeking an annulment, husband asserted that wife fraudulently induced him to enter into the marriage by pretending to accept the mahr agreement when, in fact, she never intended to be bound by it. Husband testified that, as a devout Muslim, he would never have married wife if he had known that she considered the mahr agreement to be purely symbolic and that she never intended to be bound by it in the event of divorce.

         The focus of the trial was Exhibit 300, a document signed by the parties at the time of marriage. The document was a form agreement prepared by the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, Michigan, where the parties were married. The form was primarily in Arabic and provided spaces for information to be entered, such as the names of the bride and groom, the names of their parents, and the name of the imam performing the marriage ceremony. The form was filled in by an imam of the Islamic Center and was signed by each of the parties. The title of the document was translated from Arabic to English as “Marriage Certificate.” At issue was the section entitled “Dowry” (as translated from Arabic to English). This portion of the marriage certificate is referred to as the mahr agreement. The certified translation of the subject mahr agreement stated as follows: “5 Golden coins[4] paid in advance and a copy of Quran deferred.”

         The parties agreed that the mahr agreement is an essential element of an Islamic marriage, but disagreed as to its meaning and significance. Wife contended the mahr agreement is a traditional part of the wedding ceremony and that its terms are merely symbolic. Husband's position was that the mahr agreement is an enforceable contract ...


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