Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Debra Muhammad and her husband, Robert, lived at an Islamic University that enforced strict religious rules on all aspects of Debra’s life. Debra was granted a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment can be granted when there is conduct endangering life, limb, or health, or creating reasonable apprehension of danger, or unnatural and infamous conduct making the marital relation revolting.
Facts. Robert and Debra Muhammad were married and resided in Flint, Michigan until 1987, when they relocated with their child to an Islamic community known as the University of Islam. A second child was born in 1988, and the three lived together at the University until 1989, when Debra left in the middle of the night and took the children back to Flint. Her mother assisted her with her move after she had called and said she was extremely unhappy at the University. Robert and Debra had experienced marital difficulties prior to the move, and Debra had tried Islam and moved to the University to try to save her marriage. Virtually all aspects of life at the University were impacted by religious doctrine, with a strongly paternal family structure. Women were required to submit to their husbands, and could not leave the confines without permission. Their diet was severely restricted and adults ate only once daily with periodic fasting. Mail was subject to censor. Robert appeals the
trial court’s grant of a divorce to Debra on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. In support he claims that the findings of the chancellor indicate at best that Debra was unwilling to follow the precepts of the Muslim religion.
Issue. Was the chancellor correct in granting Debra a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment?
Held. The chancellor’s determination that Debra’s case warranted a divorce was not manifestly wrong when her spouse’s actions caused a deep personal misery that had no foreseeable end.
This Court has defined cruel and inhuman treatment as conduct endangering life, limb, or health, or creating reasonable apprehension of danger, or unnatural and infamous conduct making the marital relation revolting.
Although the most common scenario for such claims is overt physical or verbal actions of a harsh and continuing nature, he harm need not derive from physical attack by the offending spouse. The main consideration is the intolerableness of the plight created for the nonoffending spouse. Although Debra only testified to one incident of physical force on behalf of her husband, life at the University relegated her to a status and set of living conditions that many would consider unbearable. Furthermore, her mother indicated that Debra was on the verge of a nervous breakdown from her experiences there.
Dissent. There was no testimony that Debra was ever in reasonable apprehension of danger to life, limb, or health. Her complaints were with her living conditions, not her husband. There was only one instance of physical abuse, and Debra wan not without fault in this instance.
Discussion. Generally habitual cruel and inhuman treatment manifests itself in repeated physical or mental abuse by the spouse. In this case the Court found that the conditions Debra was forced to live in to be with her husband were sufficient to make a valid claim.