Your questions about UAE Family Law for foreign expats, answered by Dr. Hassan Mohsen Elhais
4 October 2022| Last updated on 28 November 2022
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a host to millions of expatriates and foreigners who have made UAE their home. As a result, the UAE laws also cater to these expats and foreigners.
One of the key laws relevant to expats and foreigners is the law relating to family matters and how it is applied to foreigners in the UAE.
In this on-going series, we will explore and discuss the current laws governing family matters in the UAE, their application on expats and non-citizens, new changes brought about by recent UAE laws and its impact on expats, and important considerations that expats need to be aware of concerning family law matters.
What are the UAE laws governing family matters?
Family law matters and disputes in the UAE are regulated by:
(a) Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 (UAE Personal Status Law), as amended; and
(b) Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 on Civil Transactions Law (Civil Transactions Law), as amended.
Additionally, Emirates of Abu Dhabi has issued a new law called the Abu Dhabi Law No. 14 of 2021 (Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law) which mainly applies to non-Muslims expatriates based in Abu Dhabi. That said, the UAE Personal Status Law continues to apply to Muslims in Abu Dhabi. We will explore the Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law later in the series.
Jurisdiction of the UAE Federal Laws
The UAE courts have jurisdiction on personal status matters where the defendant is a UAE citizen or a foreigner with UAE residence.
In case the respondent is not a UAE resident, UAE courts could still have jurisdiction on family matters in certain cases, where:
(a) the claimant is based in the UAE and the respondent’s location is unknown; and
(b) the child is a resident in the UAE; or
(c) the marriage was contracted in the UAE; or
(d) the respondent chooses to define UAE as their domicile.
When a spouse files a case in the UAE, it is common practice for the other spouse to file a case in their home country for suspending or restricting the case filed in the UAE.
However, it has been well established by the UAE courts that an existing court case in a foreign court may not restrict or suspend the UAE courts from deciding the same application filed in the UAE. Such a case filed in the home country will therefore not be an impediment to the case filed in the UAE.
Types of Dissolution of Marriage
In case parties decide to dissolve their marriage, two options are available to them: divorce by mutual consent; or a contested divorce.
Divorce by Mutual Consent:
In a divorce by mutual consent, spouses enter into an amicable divorce settlement to resolve issues related to their marriage, including custody, alimony and maintenance. Both parties sign an application before the Family Guidance Department for the mutual divorce and the proceedings conclude within 1 – 2 months.
If there are disagreements between the parties or one of the parties refuses to give its consent for divorce, the Muslim husband has a right to issue divorce to the wife without reason or fault.
But, if the wives (Muslims and non-Muslims) want, they can file an application with the Family Guidance Department to initiate contested divorce proceedings. Non-Muslim husbands also have this right. The Department will attempt to resolve the issues between the parties and on failure to reach a resolution, may issue a no objection certificate to the parties, who will then proceed with the divorce proceedings before the family courts.
Usually the courts will grant divorce if the courts find that a spouse is facing harm (such as adultery, physical violence, verbal abuse, physical separation for a long period, or non-payment of maintenance) making the courts believe that life together would be impossible for the parties.
As per recent amendments to the UAE Personal Status Law, a wife has to prove her claims which could be through witnesses presented before the courts, to support her claims and arguments.
If the wife is unable to prove her claim, the case can be dismissed.
In this case, the wife would have the right to file a second application before the court to obtain the divorce. Arbitrators would be appointed in the second application who will decide whether divorce will be granted or not.
The above rules may not apply to non-Muslims based in the emirates of Abu Dhabi.
While dissolution of marriage is one aspect of personal law matters, questions regarding claims in a divorce, the custody and relocation of children and inheritance, which are governed by the UAE laws, are important considerations too.
What if the parties want to apply a foreign law in the UAE for their matters? What amounts are payable by the husband to the wife at the time of divorce? We will explore these pertinent questions and more in Part 2 of this series.
Authored by Dr. Hassan Mohsen Elhais.