We asked Dr. Hassan Elhais, legal consultant at Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultancy, to explain the key changes in the laws related to marriage, divorce, and inheritance for non-muslims.
2 February 2023| Last updated on 2 February 2023
The key changes on the UAE's personal status law for non-Muslims is effective from February 1, 2023.
The introduction of a new personal status law for the non-Muslims is a landmark decision on part of the UAE government. To be enforced from February 1st, 2023, the Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022 on Civil Personal Status brings with itself numerous changes in terms of marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance etc.
Following the issuance of the Abu Dhabi Personal Status Law for non-Muslim Foreigners in 2021, the federal government came out with a Personal Status Law that would be applicable to the entire non-Muslim population of the UAE, whether citizens or expats. The new law introduces many changes such as equality between men and women, calculation of time based on the Gregorian calendar, and joint custody of children.
How does the new law differ in terms of marriage?
The new law introduces the concept of civil marriage for the first time in the UAE. Under Articles 5 and 6 of the law, non-Muslims can get married without the requirement of a guardian’s approval, or a premarital screening certificate. The primary conditions required for the marriage are:
- a. The age of the parties must be at least 21 years
- b. There should be free consent of the parties to the marriage
- c. Marriage should not be within the prohibited degrees as stipulated
- d. The parties should not have been married to someone else
What is a no-fault divorce?
According to Article 7 of Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022, a no-fault divorce is one where either of the parties do not need to prove damage in order to file a divorce. The spouses can request for divorce without proving fault on part of the other or any other reason for justification.
Will the parties still go through the Family Guidance Committee for divorce matters?
Article 3 of the new law states that the parties applying for divorce under the new law will not be mandated to go through the procedure of amicable settlement in front of the Family Guidance Committee, and the divorce will be taken up by the Court of First Instance directly. However, for those governed by the Personal Status Law of 2005, it is compulsory to resort to the Family Guidance Committee before approaching the courts.
How much share is a wife entitled to as per the inheritance provisions under the new law?
As opposed to the inheritance procedure in the Personal Status Law of 2005, a wife is entitled to half of the estate upon the death of her husband. Further, there is no distinction between male and female heirs and no restriction on how much estate a person can bequeath in a will, under the new law.
Can non-Muslims choose to apply the laws of their home country if they wish?
In case of non-Muslim foreigners, they can choose to apply the provisions of the new law or those of their home country’s law. This option also existed in the Personal Status Law of 2005 and has been incorporated in the new law as well.
What is the scope of application of the new federal personal status law?
Article 1 of Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022 governs the following:
- a. Non-Muslim citizens of the UAE
- b. Non-Muslim expatriates and residents of the UAE, unless one of them insists that the law of their own country be applied in matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, wills, and proof of parentage.
Which type of matters are exclusively dealt with in the new law?
The new law expressly recognizes civil marriage contracts, exception from family guidance mediation, equal rights and duties for women, divorce and alimony, child custody and proof of parentage, inheritance and wills.
What does the new law say on matters of divorce?
Either spouse can file for divorce, as provided by Article 7 of the new law. The request for divorce need not be justified, nor any damage be proved. The respective court will pronounce divorce after notification to the other party.
How will alimony be determined under the new law?
When a divorced woman files for alimony and the marriage contract does not say anything in terms of alimony or other financial arrangements, the same will fall upon the discretion of the judge.
The judge will decide alimony based on the following factors, as per Article 9 of the new law:
- a. Number of years of the marriage
- b. Age of the wife
- c. Financial status of each spouse
- d. Husband’s contribution to the divorce
- e. Compensation paid by either of the spouses in lieu of damage inflicted on the other
- f. Financial loss suffered by either spouse as a result of unilateral divorce
- g. Whether the mother is diligent towards children
The alimony will be forfeited if:
- a. The woman marries another man
- b. The custody of the children with the mother ends
Who can take custody of children after divorce?
As per the new UAE family law, custody of children is a right granted to both the father and the mother equally, as well as it is a right of the children to have both parents raise them, to minimize the psychological effect of divorce on them (Article 10).
The primary rule in terms of custody is that the father and the mother shall have joint custody over the children.
However, the court may maintain an application by either party:
- a. Of granting custody to whoever is capable of achieving the best interests of the child, or
- b. Seeking to waive the right of custody, or
- c. Excluding the other party and forfeiting the right to custody because of non-eligibility, danger of such custody, or the party failing to perform their duties.
In cases where joint custody is disputed, the court will have discretion in the decision, keeping in mind the best interests of the child.
Overall, the new law is a welcoming gesture in the adoption of international best practices.