Know the difference between an ‘Annulment’ and ‘Divorce’ in the UAE

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There is a legal difference between the terms ‘Annulment’ and ‘Divorce’. Both terms relate to marriage contracts and have a very distinct meaning and the resultant procedures to each.


Annulment of a Marriage:

Annulment of a marriage contract can be defined as the legal procedure by which the marriage itself is declared null and void. There are certain legal requirements that are to be met in order for a marriage to be considered valid and hence enforceable. These conditions constitute the minimum requirement of marriage.

The legal requirements for a valid marriage are varied and can be broadly classified as: “Legal requirements for a “Sharia or Muslim Marriage” and “Legal Requirements for a Non-Muslim Marriage”.

Legal requirements for a Muslim Marriage:

There are certain key legal requirements that are to be met in order for a Muslim marriage to be recognized as a valid marriage in the UAE.

The major requirements are as follows:

  • A marriage contract has to be registered in a Sharia Court in the UAE.
  • The requirements towards the legal age of marriage are to be met. The legal age for a Muslim marriage is 18 Hijri years.
  • If the minimum age for the marriage is not met, special approval from the judge must be obtained in prior.
  • Similarly, it is required that the age for spouse should not have more than twice the age of the other person. If this is so, then also, the parties must obtain special approval prior from the judge before the marriage.
  • The procedures towards ‘premarital screening’ should be complied and such a certificate should be obtained.
  • For the marriage, the attendance of the bride’s father or his legal proxy is mandatory, along with the presence of two Muslim male witnesses.
  • For the marriage to be valid, the attendance of the couple is mandatory.
  • It is mandatory for the woman to obtain the consent of her legal guardian for the marriage.
  • When the father of the bride is deceased, then the legal guardian would be the closest male kin, which is usually the elder brother, and his presence is mandatory for the marriage.
  • For the validity of the re-marriage of a divorced or widowed woman, it is essential that the proof of status document is produced.
  • There are certain instances wherein the specific ‘no -objection certificate is required as well. This includes an instance wherein the bride is Muslim, and her father is a non-Muslim. In such a case, a ‘No-objection certificate’ is required to be submitted from the bride’s embassy or consulate.

Legal requirements for a Non-Muslim Marriage:

For the legal validity of a Non -Muslim marriage, the major conditions for the validity shall be as per their personal laws. However, there are certain steps required to be completed pursuant to the UAE laws, which include amongst others:

  • Consent of the bride must be obtained
  • For the emirate of Dubai, in order for the marriage to be valid, at least one person should be a resident in Dubai and should be holding a valid residence visa.
  • A ‘premarital screening certificate’ should have been obtained by the couple.
  • A valid marriage can be concluded at the embassy or consulate of the Non-Muslim or at a place of worship.

The UAE identifies marriage as a legal contract between a man and a woman which aims to protect the rights of the couple as well as the children borne to them. When the pre-requisite conditions that are required to constitute a marriage are not met, the marriage is considered to have never existed in the eyes of the law and thereby becomes null and void. This procedure for nullification of a marriage is termed “Annulment”.

Divorce:

The proceedings and the legality of divorce is completely different from that of an annulment. A divorce proceeding applies to a marriage that is valid in all aspects and thereby requires to be dissolved through the process of law.

This procedure is very different from that of an annulment as in the instance of an annulment; the marriage is stated to have “never existed” at all. Annulment of a marriage is rarely granted in the UAE courts for a variety of reasons. When allowed, the annulment is granted only for the very specific grounds alone eg. such as when the minimum age for marriage is not met.

Unlike annulment in order for a divorce to be allowed, either the parties should come together and complete the process for mutual divorce in consensus. If not, either party should approach the Court for a divorce based on the actual conditions that have constituted ‘harm’ to a given party and thereby necessitating that the divorce is allowed by the Courts.

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