Second Wife in Muslim marriage may be entitled to a sole-parent benefit in New Zealand

Pakistani-born polygamist Yasir Mohib’s 12-month jail sentence for assaulting one of his wives with a hammer has raised inconsistencies in NZ law. Photo / Dean Purcell

It took the media a while but all credit should go to Herald journalist Simon Collins for finally asking the questions that we were all thinking when we read the story about Pakistani-born polygamist Yasir Mohib’s 12-month jail sentence for assaulting one of his wives with a hammer. How is it that man can get away with a polygamous marriage in our society? Isn’t polygamy illegal in New Zealand? If he is only legally married to one of his wives can the other wife claim a sole-parent benefit off we the long suffering tax-payers?

A Government ministry says a second “wife” in a polygamous marriage may be entitled to a sole-parent benefit.

The surprising statement by the Ministry of Social Development has been condemned by lobby group Family First, and is disputed on legal grounds by welfare law expert Mamari Stephens.

Family First director Bob McCoskrie says the law needs to be clarified…

He asked the ministry for the legal position after the recent case of Pakistani-born meat wholesaler Yasir Mohib

The ministry’s general manager of ministerial and executive services Elisabeth Brunt replied that the Social Security Act referred to only “any 2 people who have entered into a relationship in the nature of marriage“.

“The ministry is only able to treat one woman as being married to a man at any one time,” she wrote.

“Multiple marriages are not recognised under the Social Security Act and should such a circumstance arise where a person applied for a benefit with multiple ‘wives’, the ministry would only be able to treat one wife as being married to the man.”

“As such the other ‘wives’ would be regarded for benefit purposes as being either single or sole parents, depending on their individual circumstances.

“They may be able to receive a benefit in their own right depending on their individual circumstances. Each situation would be assessed on a case by case basis.”

This is so wrong. They are living in a defacto relationship inside the same house as their ” husband” so there should be zero special circumstances. If they are living apart it is only to rort the system to get around the rules as is common in Britain. If they have a known Muslim (un official and illegal) polygamous marriage then they should be denied all sole parent benefits. By paying these women money the government is choosing to ignore the reality that they are in a Muslim polygamous marriage that is recognised by their Muslim community. They are NOT solo mothers in any way shape or form.

However Stephens said a “second wife” in a polygamous relationship could not get a sole parent benefit because a sole parent is someone “who is living apart from, and has lost the support of or is being inadequately maintained by, the person’s spouse or partner“.

“You are not going to be eligible for a benefit if you are getting emotionally and financially supported by someone else,” she said.

Stephens said it was a crime in New Zealand law, bigamy, if anyone who is already married to one person “goes through a form of marriage or civil union in New Zealand with a third person”.

But she said there was no law against living in de facto relationships with any number of people, and there was also no ban on having several legally married wives if the marriages took place overseas before the parties became New Zealand residents.

In fact the Family Proceedings Act of 1980 states that the term “marriage” “includes a union in the nature of marriage that (a) is entered into outside New Zealand, and (b) is at any time polygamous, where the law of the country in which each of the parties is domiciled at the time of the union then permits polygamy”.

McCoskrie said the law was clearly inconsistent.

…”Is polygamy being recognised covertly by the Government? That is the first concern.

“Secondly, if the Government is going to come down on welfare fraud, then we need to have clarity and consistency around the rules, not turn a blind eye to certain arrangements.”

He pointed to Canadian Court findings that women in polygamous relationships were at higher risk of physical and emotional harm, and their children were at more risk of abuse and neglect.