Learn More on Procedures of Divorce in the UAE

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The term ‘family law’ in the UAE broadly refers to the Federal Law no. 28 of 2005 on ‘Personal Status’ and its amendments (‘Personal Status law’) which governs all aspects relating to the marriage, divorce, maintenance, child custody, succession and guardianship matters concerning both UAE nationals and residents. The personal status law is in turn guided by the Islamic principles of Sharia and its traditions. 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 would be the law of the country where the marriage was solemnized. The applicability of the foreign law is also subject to the provisions of the UAE Civil Code, and in general, the applicability can also be restricted on account of underlying conditions, such as its possible contradiction with the UAE laws.

Jurisdiction of the UAE courts:

The Personal status law applies to both citizens and residents of the UAE, subject to the specific rules concerning jurisdiction as discussed in the law. In general, a personal status claim can be submitted before the UAE courts in the following instances:

  • the lawsuit concerns opposition to a marriage that is to be contracted in the UAE.
  • the lawsuit concerns a claim in rescission or annulment of a marriage, in repudiation or in divorce and the claim is introduced by the wife against her husband who had a domicile, residence or place of business in the UAE.
  • If the lawsuit concerns a claim of alimony to the parents, the wife or the minor whenever they have in the State a domicile, residence or place of business.
  • Where the lawsuit concerns the affiliation of a child, having in the State a domicile or residence, or is related to the guardianship on the person or property, whenever the minor or the person to be interdicted has, domicile or residence or if the absent had therein his last domicile, residence or place of business in the UAE.
  • Should the lawsuit concern a matter of personal status and the plaintiff is a citizen or an alien having in the UAE a domicile, residence or place of business, in case the defendant has no known domicile or residence in a foreign country.

Reasons for Divorce:

A divorce can be initiated in the UAE for non-Muslims either on mutual terms or on contested terms.

For couples, who are able to mutually discuss and agree on the terms of separation, a mutual divorce is best suited. In such instance, either party, the husband or wife, can start the separation process by approaching the family guidance committee part of the UAE courts to start the conciliation process ending with a separation agreement determining the points of separation.

On the other hand, in non-mutual and contested divorce matters, the party submitting the divorce claim is also required to provide sufficient evidence of harm in order for the divorce to be granted. This is referred to a ‘divorce due to prejudice’, and the prejudice caused can be established by the legal means of proof and by the court judgments rendered against one of the other spouses (such as criminal verdict). The testimony of a male or female witness will also be considered by courts in such cases, as well as documentary evidence.

An interesting new development for the emirate of Abu Dhabi has been the introduction of the ‘Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi’, wherein a unilateral divorce process is now allowed for non- Muslims. In a 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, which was a mandatory pre- requirement earlier. Unilateral divorce will be granted by the courts if either spouse expresses in court his or her 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 party. The new decree, however, applies only to non-Muslim foreigners, 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.

The personal status law is broad and comprises of an exhaustive three hundred and sixteen articles, and the provisions relating to the same are constantly amended. Only the lawyers specializing in family law can guide you with the right strategies whether you are facing a difficult divorce, custody battle or a maintenance claim. The process concerning family matters can become needlessly complicated for ex-pats living in the UAE, especially if proper legal guidance is not sought. Seeking early intervention and legal expertise from an experienced lawyer can provide you with the reassurance that your best interests will be looked after.

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