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Divorce Essentials for Expatriates in UAE

Residents of the UAE who entered into marriage outside the country can typically pursue divorce through either civil proceedings or personal religious beliefs. Contrary to common misconception, a significant number of non-natives opt for the UAE court system to manage their divorces, as it proves to be both quicker and more cost-effective in the long term.

Within the UAE, divorces by mutual consent can be finalized in as little as a month. When faced with a deteriorating marital situation, many individuals view divorce as a last resort. However, numerous foreigners lack information on the divorce process in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Most expatriates from abroad encounter challenges spanning jurisdictional matters, child custody concerns, and the legal grounds for divorce.

Divorce Laws for Expatriates in the UAE

It’s crucial to note that divorce procedures in the UAE differ depending on whether the marriage is Muslim or non-Muslim. Muslim divorces are governed by Sharia Law, while non-Muslim divorces are regulated by Federal Law No. 28 of 2008, commonly referred to as the Personal Status Law. Under this policy, non-Muslims have the option to apply the personal laws of their marriage’s country of solemnization, provided they possess duly legalized copies of their nation’s regulations, translated and certified by an official translator and the Ministry of Justice.

Non-Muslim expats have the flexibility to initiate divorce proceedings either in their home country or within the UAE. Additionally, they can request the application of their home country’s legal framework to their divorce case. However, if they opt for divorce in their home country, they must adhere to specific steps to ensure the recognition and validity of their divorce in the UAE. These steps include:

1. Obtaining a legally translated version of their divorce decree.

2. Having it authenticated by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

3. Updating their personal status records with UAE authorities.

If they decide to pursue divorce proceedings in the UAE, they must adhere to Federal Law No. 28 of 2005, also known as the Personal Status Law, which governs personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody for non-Muslims. However, Article 1 of this law allows non-Muslims to request the application of their legal regulations to personal status matters, as long as these regulations do not contravene public order or morals. This means that relevant parties can seek to apply the laws of their home country instead of UAE legislation.

Amendment in UAE Expatriate Divorce Laws

As per the amendments introduced in Article 1 of Federal Law No. 29 of 2020 concerning Modifications to Personal Status Matters:

1. This Law’s stipulations apply to UAE citizens, except for non-Muslim citizens who may be subject to specific provisions about their religious community or beliefs.

2. The Law’s provisions are also enforceable upon non-citizens unless any among them explicitly demands the application of their home country’s legal system.

This amended law further specifies that the nationality of the husband at the time of marriage dictates the legal framework governing the personal and property consequences arising from the marriage. In cases where the law of the spouses’ native country does not address a particular issue related to the divorce proceedings, UAE courts retain the authority to opt for UAE law as an alternative.

Muslims and UAE nationals remain subject to federal personal status law, grounded in Islamic Sharia.

Process for Initiating Divorce for Expatriates in the UAE

To initiate divorce proceedings, individuals must initially contact the Family Guidance Section of the Personal Status Court, providing an application and their marriage documentation.

A counselor will attentively hear the grievances of both parties and attempt to reconcile them, to preserve the marriage.

In instances where one or both parties are unwilling to reconcile, the counselor will encourage them to outline the terms of settlement and divorce.

If one of the parties objects to the divorce terms and settlement, they have the option to file for a contested divorce within the Personal Status Court.

Subsequently, the Family Guidance Section of the Personal Status Court will issue a definitive letter for the contested divorce, which will remain valid for three months.

Should the couple mutually agree to divorce, the Personal Status Court will issue an Arabic-translated divorce certificate to each party.

Legal Framework for Dissolving Civil Marriages in the UAE

In the United Arab Emirates, civil marriages differ from those rooted in religious or customary traditions, as they are founded solely upon the mutual agreement of the individuals involved and the formal registration of the marriage through a civil authority. The legal provisions governing civil marriages in the UAE are stipulated in Law No. (14) of 2021, which pertains to Civil Marriage and its Consequences within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (referred to as the “Law”). This Law applies to foreign nationals who have a civil marriage contract either registered abroad or within the UAE and who seek to terminate their marriage within the UAE.

The No-Fault Divorce Principle:

The Law fundamentally upholds the concept of a no-fault divorce. As articulated in Article 6 of the Law, a civil divorce can be initiated when one of the spouses simply expresses their desire to terminate the marriage before the Court. There is no requirement to provide justifications for this request, demonstrate any harm suffered, or assign blame to the other party.

Procedures for Civil Divorce by Legal Regulations

Civil divorce serves as a legal recourse for individuals seeking to terminate their marital union without adhering to any religious doctrines. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), civil divorce is accessible to both non-Muslim citizens and expatriate couples, provided they satisfy specific prerequisites. The fundamental stages involved in initiating a civil divorce are as follows:

1. Complete an application for civil divorce in both Arabic and English, then submit it to the court along with the requisite documents and fees.

2. Await the court’s approval of the application and the scheduling of a hearing, with the stipulation that the hearing must occur no less than 30 days later.

3. Receive notification of the hearing date through postal mail, email, or telephone.

4. If you are the defendant and wish to challenge the court’s jurisdiction or address any other divorce-related concerns, prepare a defense memorandum.

5. Attend the scheduled hearing and express your intention to seek a divorce before the presiding judge, who will issue a divorce decree based on the presented evidence and arguments.

Key Considerations for Divorce Proceedings in the UAE

Child Custody and Child Support

Under UAE law, the biological mother assumes the role of custodian, while the father is designated as the guardian. Custody primarily encompasses daily responsibilities such as education, healthcare, religious guidance, and housing, often granted to the mother. The guardian, typically the father, is responsible for providing financial support. It’s important to note that custody and guardianship are distinct concepts in the United Arab Emirates. In most cases, the custody of a minor child is awarded to the mother, provided she demonstrates her maturity, honesty, good health, and ability to raise the child. Additionally, she must obtain court authorization to remarry. If the father is granted custody, he must ensure that there is a female presence, like a female relative, in the household to care for the child.

You may be interested in Key Insights into Navigating Divorce for Expatriates in the UAE

Division of Assets

The division of assets is a crucial aspect of divorce in the UAE, encompassing everything from bank accounts and real estate to businesses and vehicles. Generally, each party retains ownership of property or assets in their name. Joint assets, such as bank accounts held by both partners, are typically divided equally by the court. Real estate, especially the marital home, is a significant consideration, with judges often favoring allocation to the custodial parent to maintain stability for the children after the separation.

You may also read UAE Court Grants Dh7 Million Alimony in Divorce

Spousal Maintenance

Upon finalization of the divorce, the husband is obligated to provide financial support to his former wife. This support includes covering expenses for food, clothing, and suitable housing for the ex-wife and children, as well as the cost of their education and any domestic staff, such as maids or drivers. Spousal maintenance may amount to up to 30% of the husband’s income, though he can opt to provide more if desired.

It is important to note that this article serves as a general overview of the subject matter. It has been created with the utmost care to ensure accuracy. However, due to the potential variation in individual circumstances, it is not intended to offer legal advice or predict specific outcomes. Readers contemplating legal action should seek guidance from a qualified divorce attorney to understand the current laws and their applicability to their unique case.

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