The parties were married civilly in New York in 1998, and they had an Islamic wedding ceremony thereafter. As part of the religious ceremony, they signed a mahr agreement that required the husband to make an advance payment to the wife of $5,000, with deferred payment of $250,000 in case of divorce. While living in Abu Dhabi, the wife obtained a divorce, custody of the children, and a judgment for the $250,000 payment due under the mahr. She then sought recognition and enforcement of the Abu Dhabi judgment in New York insofar as it related to the payment due under the mahr.
In the prior decisions, the New York courts recognized the Abu Dhabi divorce judgment, including the payment obligations under the mahr. Separately, the husband had sued the wife in Abu Dhabi, claiming that she was required to contribute to the mortgage payments for properties the couple had owned in the US and in Egypt, but that she had not done so. The wife argued that her contributions to the support of their children should be credited against her obligations to contribute to the mortgage payments. She also brought a counterclaim for damages for assault. The Abu Dhabi first instance court ultimately ruled in the husband’s favor, awarding him damages. The wife appealed, and the appellate court set aside the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The husband then sought recognition and enforcement of the judgment in New York.
The wife argued that the judgment was not final and conclusive in Abu Dhabi in light of the remand, but the court found that the remand had happened years ago and the wife had not pursued a rehearing, and it relied on a decree of the Abu Dhabi court indicating that the first instance judgment was indeed presently enforceable.
The wife was left, therefore, to argue other grounds for non-recognition. She argued that Abu Dhabi did not have impartial tribunals or accord litigants due process, but this was an awkward argument for her to make given that she previously had sought and received recognition of the Abu Dhabi divorce judgment. The judge didn’t use the word “estoppel,” but he noted the wife’s prior assertions about the Abu Dhabi courts, calling them “noteworthy and compelling,” and he rejected the wife’s argument. Steven Donziger, eat your heart out.