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The UAE is home to around 8.84 million who belong to various nationalities and include amongst other South Asians, Europeans etc constituting approximately 89 per cent of the total population of the country. The term ‘family law’ in the UAE broadly refers to the Federal Law no. 28 of 2005 on ‘Personal Status’ and its amendments (the ‘Personal Status law’) that governs all aspects relating to the marriage, divorce, maintenance, child custody, succession and guardianship matters concerning both UAE nationals and residents(ex-pats). In Addition, the personal status law is guided by the Islamic principles of Sharia and its traditions.
The questions involving family law are quite complex, especially due to the multitude of diverse expat population having residence in the country, which possibly invites the application of various national laws in a matter of judicial separation. That said, expats in the UAE are also allowed to apply foreign law in the UAE courts, and with the latest amendment, the applicable foreign law in such instances would be the law of the country where the marriage was solemnized. The application of the foreign law is also subject to the provisions of the UAE Civil Code, and in general, the applicability is restricted by many underlying conditions, such as it should not contradict the UAE laws.
The personal status law applies to all residents in the UAE and allows for divorce through either ‘mutual consent’ or by a ‘contested divorce’. Within the court system of each emirate, ‘family guidance centers’ have been established. These centers have been to allow for a family dispute to be referred to the guidance counsellors for mediation measures. Different types of family disputes can be referred to the guidance department, such as disputes concerning maintenance claims, marital discord etc. The role of the family guidance department is to initiate mediation between the disputing parties and to seek a possible resolution. In instances, wherein the disputing parties are able to resolve their difference, the parties may enter into a written ‘settlement agreement’ which can take many forms, whether concerning fixed maintenance or even a contested divorce. In the instances wherein the parties are unable to resolve their disputes, the guidance department then issues a ‘no-objection certificate’ enabling the parties to approach the UAE courts for legal adjudication. In which case, it becomes a contested divorce. As we discussed above, in matters of contested divorce for expats in the UAE, the applicable law that governs separation essentially could be the law of the country where the marriage was contracted.
Special rules for the emirate of Abu Dhabi:
In the recent changes, a new decree-law on Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi has been enacted (hereinafter “New Decree”). The new Decree amends the previous practices applicable concerning divorce of non-Muslims and allows the concept of ‘unilateral divorce’ for the first time.
Pursuant to Article 6 of the new Decree, ‘unilateral divorce’ will be granted by the courts if either spouse expresses in court their desire to separate and terminate the marriage, without any need to justify their reason or to demonstrate harm or to put the blame on the other part. Article 6 reads as, ‘It is sufficient to grant a divorce if either spouse expresses in Court his/her desire to separate and terminate the matrimonial relationship, without need to justify his/her application, demonstrate the harm or put the blame to the other party’. Further to the above, the New Decree clarifies that the divorce process can proceed without the mandatory pre-requirement of completing mediation steps (family guidance), as was the case earlier. As part of the unilateral divorce process, either spouse may now directly approach the Court for the divorce without the prerequisite of submitting their request for mediation under the family guidance department (Article 7). These new provisions apply to any non-Muslim foreigner, whether it be a male or female, who has his or her domicile, or place of residence or place of work in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
You will infer from the above-mentioned details that the UAE judicial system ensures a fair representation for ex-pats seeking a divorce in the country. In Addition, the latest changes have instilled a legal framework that closely reflects the international best practices, as well as the culture, customs and language of the ex-pats in the region.