FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SIXTEENTH DIVISION
[NO. 60DR-15-1123] HONORABLE MORGAN E. WELCH, JUDGE
Law Firm, by: Steven A. Owings and Tammy B. Gattis, for
& Haubert, PLLC, by: Stefan K. McBride, for appellee.
KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge.
Sameer Fares and appellee Kifah Fares obtained a marriage
license in Missouri in 1990. The parties lived together, had
four children,  and now reside in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In 2015, Kifah filed a complaint for divorce in Pulaski
County Circuit Court, and Sameer filed a counterclaim for
the divorce proceedings had commenced, Sameer filed a
petition for annulment of marriage or judgment declaring the
marriage void. This petition was based on the fact that
Sameer and Kifah are first cousins, making the marriage void
under Missouri law. Missouri Annotated Statutes section
451.020 provides, in pertinent part:
All marriages between parents and children, including
grandparents and grandchildren of every degree, between
brothers and sisters of the half as well as the whole blood,
between uncles and nieces, aunts and nephews, first
cousins, and between persons who lack capacity to enter
into a marriage contract, are presumptively void[.]
two hearings on Sameer's petition and Kifah's divorce
complaint, the trial court entered a "Final Order &
Decree of Divorce." In that order, the trial court
denied Sameer's petition for annulment based on its
finding that Sameer was estopped from denying the validity of
the marriage. The trial court granted Kifah's complaint
for divorce; awarded her custody of the parties' minor
child; ordered Sameer to pay child support; ordered Sameer to
pay alimony; awarded each party half of the parties'
assets; and ordered Sameer's retirement benefits to be
divided equally. The trial court subsequently entered an
order awarding Kifah attorney's fees.
now appeals. On appeal, Sameer argues that the trial court
erred in finding that he was estopped from denying the
validity of the marriage and erred in denying his motion to
declare the marriage void or annul the marriage. Sameer
further argues that, because the parties were never married,
the trial court erred in dividing their property in
accordance with Arkansas domestic-relations statutes, erred
in dividing his retirement assets, erred in awarding alimony,
and erred in awarding attorney's fees. We find no error
review domestic-relations cases de novo, but we will not
reverse a trial court's finding of fact unless it is
clearly erroneous. Klenakis v. Klenakis, 2017
Ark.App. 36, 510 S.W.3d 821. A finding is clearly erroneous
when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing
court is left with a definite and firm conviction that the
trial court has made a mistake. Id. In reviewing a
trial court's findings of fact, we give due deference to
the court's superior position to determine the
credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be accorded to
their testimony. Id.
the above standard applies to findings of fact, appellate
courts will not defer to the trial court on a question of
law. Jones v. Abraham, 67 Ark.App. 304, 999 S.W.2d
698 (1999). The trial court's decision will be reversed
if it erroneously applied the law and the appellant suffered
prejudice as a result. Id.
the complaint and counterclaim for divorce were filed, Sameer
filed an amended counterclaim for divorce requesting that the
trial court enforce a premarital agreement between the
parties. A preliminary hearing was held on this
request, and at that hearing it was revealed in Kifah's
testimony that she and Sameer are first cousins- their
mothers are siblings. After this disclosure was made,
Sameer's counsel filed Sameer's petition for
annulment of marriage or judgment declaring the marriage
first of two subsequent hearings, it was established that
Sameer was born in Kuwait and holds a Jordanian passport.
Kifah is from Jordan. Sameer moved to the United States about
nine years before Kifah, and he earned a civil-engineering
degree. Through Sameer's mother, Sameer's marriage
with Kifah (whom he had met only over the phone) was arranged
in 1990. Kifah then came to the United States to marry
Sameer, and they obtained a marriage license in Missouri.
testified that, when she came to the United States in 1990,
Sameer spoke English but she did not. Kifah now understands some
English. Kifah relied on Sameer to provide for her and the
family, while she took care of the home and the children.
Kifah testified that in both Jordan and Kuwait it is
culturally acceptable to be married to one's first cousin
and that, when they got married, both she and Sameer knew
they were first cousins. Kifah stated that she was not aware
of the laws in Missouri and had no reason to believe they
were not legally married for the twenty-six years prior to
Sameer filing his petition to annul the marriage. During the
marriage Kifah never heard Sameer say, nor did she have any
evidence, that Sameer knew it was illegal in Missouri to
marry one's cousin. Kifah stated that had she known the
marriage was illegal she would not have married Sameer.
Sameer's testimony, he too stated that he had no
knowledge about the laws of Missouri. Sameer stated that he
was aware that Kifah was his first cousin when he filed his
counterclaim for divorce and that, had he known it was
impermissible to be married to his cousin, he would have told
his attorney. Sameer testified that he did not know it was
illegal to marry his cousin until ...