Learn more about divorce procedures in the UAE with legal consultant Dr. Hassan Elhais
1 March 2023| Last updated on 9 March 2023
The UAE laws governing your divorce.
Personal matters in the UAE, up till February 2023, were governed by Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 Personal Status Law, along with some supporting provisions from the Civil Transactions Law of 1985.
However now, as part of making the UAE more attractive for expat foreigners, the government has put forward an altogether separate law, which is based on internationally accepted practices and customs in terms of family laws.
The new Federal Decree-Law, No. 41 of 2022, which came into force on 1st of February 2023, has followed the provisions of the previously enacted Abu Dhabi Law No. 14 of 2021 on Civil Marriage and its Effects in Abu Dhabi.
Family matters for non-Muslim expat residents in the UAE, including marriage and divorce, will now be governed by these laws. Meanwhile, the Personal Status Law of 2005 will continue to apply for Muslim expats and citizens in the UAE.
The following article discusses the divorce process under the two laws, namely: Federal Law No. 28/2005 on Personal Status (Muslim residents), and Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 on Civil Personal Status (non-Muslim residents).
Federal Law No. 28/2005 on Personal Status (for Muslim residents)
Under Article 98 of the Personal Status Law, divorce means cancellation of the valid contract of marriage between the spouses.
How to initiate a divorce:
Divorce can be commenced by the husband, and for the wife to initiate divorce, she must either have such right in the marriage contract or have grounds of ‘harm’ as mentioned in the law.
Divorce can be pronounced verbally, or given in writing, and in case of inability to do either, communicated by understandable gestures.
Divorce as per Sharia law can be pronounced by saying "talaq" (Arabic for "I divorce you"), by either of the spouses, in the presence of a witness. For Muslims, the divorce will be valid if given in this manner, but to get it recognised in the UAE, the divorce should be registered with the courts.
The spouses can also directly approach the court for a divorce judgement.
Before referral to the courts, the spouses are made to go through the process of mediation, conducted by the Family Guidance Committee, as per Article 98/3 of the law. The counselors in the Committee help to achieve reconciliation between the parties, and if there is no agreement, the matter moves to the judge.
The judge will decide the grounds for divorce from any one or more of the following:
- Defects such as insanity or leprosy, or those preventing physical interaction can become grounds for divorce, as per Article 112 of the law. Also, if serious deceit is perpetrated by one spouse, the other can file for divorce under Article 114 of the law.
- Non-payment of dowry by the husband to the wife in a non-consummated marriage (Article 116).
- Discordance between the spouses, making it impossible to continue their relationship (Article 117).
- If the husband fails to financially support the wife, under Article 124 of the law.
- If the husband remains absent despite warning, and resides in a known domicile, the wife is entitled to divorce him, under Article 129 of the law. Where the husband’s whereabouts are unknown even after investigation, and a year has passed, the wife can claim divorce under Article 130 of the law.
- As per Article 131 of the law, the wife can file for divorce from her husband if he has been sentenced to imprisonment for more than 3 years, provided the divorce is filed where the husband is already in prison for more than a year.
- If the husband does not engage with the wife for more than 4 months, the wife can divorce him (Articles 132 and 133).
Revocability of divorce:
Once divorce is initiated, the wife is required to go through a waiting period, called "idda", which lasts for almost 3 months. It is required to ascertain as to whether the wife is pregnant. If the wife is pregnant, the waiting period will last up till the birth of the child. The expenses of the wife will be borne by the husband during this period.
The period of idda also allows the parties to reflect upon their decision of divorce, and if they wish, they can cancel the divorce and continue their marital relationship.
Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 on Civil Personal Status (for non-Muslim residents)
Under the new law for non-Muslims, the spouses are not required to provide a reason for initiating divorce, or blame the other party for its cause.
Moreover, divorce can be filed jointly or by one party alone; the party seeking divorce will need to file a case before the court, and divorce will be affected after notifying the other party, as under Articles 7 and 8 of the law.
Exemption from Mediation:
The new law also exempts the spouses from the mediation process, i.e. those filing for divorce under the new law need not go through the Family Guidance Committee for reconciliation, and can straightaway approach the court.
There is no obligatory waiting period for the wife under the law, and the divorce is affected as soon as the judgement is pronounced.