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Ravasizadeh v. Niakosari

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Essex

September 25, 2018

MASOUMEH RAVASIZADEH
v.
ALI NIAKOSARI.

          Heard: April 9, 2018.

         Complaint for divorce filed in the Essex Division of the Probate and Family Court Department on January 4, 2013. The case was heard by Peter C. DiGangi, J.

          Cynthia Stone Creem (Judith McKinnon also present) for the husband.

          Susan Correia-Champa for the wife.

          Present: Meade, Hanlon, & Blake, JJ.

          HANLON, JUDGE

         Ali Niakosari (husband) appeals from a judgment of divorce nisi issued by the Probate and Family Court, challenging only the judge's division of assets.[1] He contends that the judge erred by awarding his former wife, Masoumeh Ravizadeh (wife), a portion of the appreciation in value of the husband's premarital inherited properties in Tehran, Iran. The husband also argues that the judge erred in calculating the division of the Islamic marriage contract, called a "mahr." In the husband's view, the judge had no authority over the mahr, which was then the subject of litigation in Iran, and, further, the judge's calculation created a disproportionate division of marital assets in favor of the wife. We modify so much of the judgment as relates to the mahr; otherwise, we affirm the judgment.

         Background.

         We recite facts from the judge's findings and the uncontradicted evidence, along with certain trial testimony, reserving recitation of some additional facts as they become relevant to the issues raised. The husband and wife were married in the State of New York on June 20, 2000, according to Iranian custom, which included the negotiation and execution of a "mahr" or marriage contract that, in this case, required the husband to pay to the wife 700 gold coins. During the marriage, the parties enjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle until the time of their separation in December, 2012.[2] The parties share legal and physical custody of their only child.

         After filing her complaint for divorce in Massachusetts, the wife filed an action in the Iranian court to enforce the mahr.[3], [4] Both parties testified at trial in the Probate and Family Court. According to the husband, a mahr is an Iranian marriage contract negotiated between the couple and their families, for the purpose of providing financial support for the wife. Under Iranian law, the proceeds of the mahr are "the only financial money that can be recovered [by the wife] from a divorce and three months of alimony, that's it."[5] The wife testified only that the mahr is "a gift that the groom gives to the bride." On April 20, 2013, the court in Iran found in the wife's favor, and required the husband to pay to the wife, under the terms of the mahr, 700 gold coins. The husband appealed, and the verdict was upheld.[6] The husband appealed again to the Tehran Province Court of Review, which upheld the verdict. Still unsatisfied, the husband appealed to the Supreme Court of Iran; according to him, that action was pending at the time of trial.[7]

         On November 17, 2015, after five days of trial, the judgment of divorce nisi entered. In addition to orders regarding custody and child support, which are not at issue in this appeal, the judge essentially divided equally the parties' various joint and individual bank and retirement accounts. He ordered the sale of the individually and jointly held Cambridge condominium units and parking space, with the net proceeds equally divided, and awarded to the husband the exclusive right to his inherited property in Tehran, Iran. However, the judge ordered that the value of any appreciation in that property that occurred during the marriage be divided equally.

         The history underlying the property in Tehran is significant here. The judge found that, when the husband was seventeen years old, he inherited from his deceased father certain property in Tehran, consisting of a one-sixth interest (with his siblings and his mother) in the parental home, along with complete ownership of two apartments and a flower shop contained in a building where his siblings and aunt own the other apartments.[8] The judge found credible the husband's trial testimony that his mother manages the units he owns, and receives all of the rental income derived therefrom.[9]

         In addition, after finding, based on the verdict of the Iranian court, that the wife "owns 700 gold coins", the judge ordered the husband to pay into the court in Iran the value of the coins to satisfy that judgment. The judge then determined those funds to be "an asset of the wife," and therefore part of the marital estate and subject to division. The judge also ordered that, in the event the Supreme Court of Iran reverses the lower court verdict, the husband still is obligated to "pay an amount equal to one-half of the money to Wife to satisfy the liability." The judge did not order either party to pay alimony, finding that the wife had the ability to maintain her station and lifestyle through employment and her share of the divided marital assets.

         D ...


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