Civil Marriage and Divorce for Non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates of Abu Dhabi announces first of its kind law in UAE for non-Muslims residing in UAE. The law applies to personal status that concerns civil principles, family issues, and inheritance. There are instructions to establish specialized court to hear cases for non-Muslims. Before this law, non-Muslims had to marry in their home country, embassy, or consulate.

The Abu Dhabi judicial department introduced this law to make it easier for non-Muslims to marry, divorce, and apply for joint custody. The flexible and advanced judicial system adheres to internationally recognized law and aims to make the emirate attractive to people who want to work and live in Abu Dhabi.

The primary objective and purpose of the law are explained in article 2 of the law, which are:

  • To provide a flexible judicial mechanism for efficient dispute resolution (personal status law) for foreigners.
  • To elevate the emirate’s position as one of the most competitive and appealing destinations for brilliant individuals.
  • To be one of the first emirates to pass civil legislation governing expats’ family matters.
  • To grant foreigners the right to apply a law that is familiar to them and closely aligned with their customs, cultures, and languages.
  • To attain and safeguard the children’s best interests, especially if the parents are divorced.
  • To alleviate the stress and disagreements that develop due to the divorce.
  • To retain the parental role following the divorce.

What does the law say?

In November 2021 Abu Dhabi government passed its separate personal status law—law No. 14 of 2021 concerning personal status for non-Muslim expats. The law consists of 20 articles with multiple chapters that cover in detail governance related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and joint custody of the child for non-citizens. The law defines all non-Muslims as expatriates, regardless of their gender, domicile status, residential status or employment in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The provision of this law would apply in all scenarios unless both parties choose to implement the laws of their home country.

Highlights of the New Law

Establishment of separate courts: The Judicial Department is going to establish dedicated courts for non-Muslim family issues. Both Arabic and English are now used in judicial procedures for a better understanding of foreigners. It also aims to increase judicial transparency.

Marriage registration for non-Muslims: Chapter 1 of the new rule eliminates the necessity for the bride’s Guardian’s consent and insists that the marriage is only between the man and the woman.

Divorce for non-Muslims: Chapter 2 of the new law states that non-Muslims can apply for a divorce without proving any form of harm done to each other. Earlier it was mandatory to show evidence of physical or psychological harm for divorce to be allowed. Moreover, the earlier compulsory rule for trying reconciliation as the first step to divorce is also scrapped. Couples can now get divorced in the first hearing.

Custody of the child in case of divorce: Chapter 3 of the new law states now both parents can have joint custody of their children. The court’s concentration would now be fully in the children’s best interest. Earlier mother used to get custody of the child, and the father was just the Guardian.

Inheritance: 5th chapter of the new law states that in the event of a death without a Will, the deceased’s property can be divided evenly between the surviving spouses, who receive half of the asset, and the children receive the other half. However, if the deceased had no children, half of the estate is divided evenly between the parents (in the absence of parents, it’s divided equally among their siblings). On the other hand, expats have the freedom to make a Will that distributes their entire estate to anyone they choose.

Bottom Line

The new personal status law of Abu Dhabi has successfully incorporated international best practices and is welcomed by the hundreds of expats in the emirate. The highlight of the new law is the emphasis that it pays on the equality of men and women when it comes to personal status.

For any family law or personal status law-related legal problems, you can contact our efficient lawyers to guide you on the right path. We also offer exclusive marriage registration services to non-Muslim and Muslim couples in all emirates of the UAE.

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