United Arab Emirates: Enforcing English Family Finance Orders In UAE

Last Updated: 8 June 2017
Article by Byron James and Alexandra Tribe

The efficacy of a court order or judgment is only as good as the ability to enforce it. In family finance cases, proportionality often dictates that assets held in jurisdictions with barriers to recognition or enforcement of an English order present an unjustifiable hurdle. In cases where there are sufficient assets to offset internationally owned assets against those held domestically, this offers a simple solution; but what of those cases where fairness, the underpinning concept inherent in family finance cases, can only be met through the distribution of those assets held abroad? In such circumstances, one may need a foreign court to recognise and enforce the English order. In an increasingly globalised, international world, the reciprocal enforcement of orders is becoming a commercial necessity for jurisdictions keen to interact effectively with the rest of the world.

There are few countries seeking to interact with the rest of the world more than the UAE. It has provided a home and work for a large number of English expats who have been travelling out there for a significant number of years. Where there are English families and individuals relocating to a particular place, inherent in that will be the consequence of relationship breakdown and the specific issues which such international cases present. There is a growing trend, perhaps reflecting the more long term, settled plans of expatriates in the UAE, of purchasing property there and using the country as a base for their self-run businesses. Consequently there is a lot of individuals' and families' money finding its way to the UAE. The ability to rely upon the local jurisdiction to recognise and enforce English orders would provide fairer and more cost efficient routes for expatriates in family breakdown. 

It was with this in mind that there was a degree of interest in the decision of DNB Bank ASA v Gulf Eyadah [CA-007-2015] (25 February 2016) which appeared to confirm that parties would be able to have a foreign order recognised in the DIFC court and then use this recognition to obtain enforcement in the Dubai court. The case involved a banking dispute, where an English order was made in the Chancery Division and the DNB bank wanted to enforce that order in the Dubai court. The decision at first instance held that there was jurisdiction in the DIFC court for the application to enforce to be made but that it would not be possible to take the next step in the process of seeking enforcement through to the Dubai court.

The first instance judge stated what many had understood the position to be for some time: that foreign arbitral awards were recognised (under the New York Arbitration Convention on the Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards) but foreign judgments were not. It is for this reason that expatriates have long been encouraged to reach agreements between themselves regarding outcomes on separation as the best route through which they are able to avoid being subjected to domestic Sharia based laws; the gender-based determinism of asset distribution and parental roles is something that most expatriates are keen to avoid.

The successful applicant bank brought the appeal on the ground that the barrier to enforcement from DIFC to Dubai court would undermine their ability to enforce the English order effectively, and ultimately undermine the order obtained in the DIFC court. The appellant bank argued that halting the progress from DIFC court to the Dubai court on the ground that the order obtained was a recognised foreign judgment was wrong because once the English order had been ratified in the DIFC court then it would progress thereafter as an order of that court rather than as a foreign one. This argument succeeded and the Appellate Court upheld the appeal on this basis – creating what some have termed 'a conduit jurisdiction'.  

There was thereafter a clear route to overcome the inability to enforce foreign judgments in the Dubai court, by filtering them first through the DIFC court and enforcing that order in the Dubai court removing the foreign judgment label. There is no "forum non conveniens" test applicable between courts based within the UAE and therefore one can choose to apply freely in the first instance to the more commercial and globally minded DIFC court. This decision had the potential to be very significant and, whilst applicable in a banking case, clearly had a wider reach: if an English court made an award for someone in a family finance case to pay a lump sum, and that person only had assets in the UAE, there was now a route available to have that judgment debt enforced against that debtor. It had the potential to open the door to enforcement against a wide array of non-disclosing and non-compliant spouses seeking to avoid the strictures of an English order.

However these 'open doors' caused concern; consequentially, on 9th June 2016, the Ruler of Dubai established the "Judicial Tribunal for the Dubai Courts and DIFC Courts".  The specific purpose of this Tribunal is stated as being to resolve any conflict of jurisdiction that might arise between the DIFC courts and the Dubai courts. The dynamic between the two courts is complex and interesting, and the motivation behind the establishment of this Tribunal is not yet clear. It could be a method of restricting the DIFC court from its attempts to be more progressive or try and bring parity and consistency between the two courts in a positive, rather than restrictive, way. The Tribunal appears to have been established very quickly and its purpose will become clear only through its action. If the purposive aspect is to limit and even entirely block the 'conduit jurisdiction' created by the DNB bank case that would undoubtedly be a backward step for the UAE legal system.

There is therefore a continued uncertainty as to the extent to which English orders will be capable of enforcement in Dubai/UAE through the conduit jurisdiction and the advice to clients must be to adopt a wait and see approach, to see how the Tribunal itself will respond to future such attempts to achieve enforcement and recognition. It remains however that some clients face little choice where agreements both as to substance and to arbitrate remain unforthcoming. These two mechanisms, binding agreements and arbitration, continue to provide the safest means of achieving certainty in family finance cases with a UAE element. They remain the clearest, unimpeded route to recognition and enforcement within the UAE courts.

There is an interesting parallel path being pursued between the courts and privately achieved outcomes playing out in the English family legal system. Through arbitration, for example, one is able to control venue, timeframes and level of judge: all extremely attractive to clients, especially to those abroad who would welcome a hearing taking place in their part of the world rather than having to undergo significant upheaval and travel. Arbitration now extends to children cases too, providing a complete service available to separating families. Whilst the English court system suffers continual court closures, court buildings which offer little comfort or service (and often barely even a room) and overstretched, overworked judges, it is clear to those within the profession that of the two litigation paths, between court led and privately arranged, the latter appears to be where we are heading in the future.

The difficultly at present is that one requires agreement from both sides to arbitrate, as it is a contractually based process. Enforcement usually involves a lack of agreement and cooperation from the other side. For the majority of cases, on separation, the collaborative methods being promoted throughout the family law world work extremely well for expatriates living in the UAE. However, for those who have to push back against a difficult party seeking to hide and run away from an English order, a door was opened by conduit jurisdiction; it remains to be seen the extent to which it may have been closed again by the Tribunal.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Expatriate Law
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Expatriate Law
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions