In the recent changes, a new decree-law on Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi has been enacted (hereinafter "New Decree"). The new Decree amends the previous practices applicable to the divorce of non-Muslims and allows the concept of unilateral divorce for the first time. The new Decree thus aims to provide more innovative solutions that will allow non- Muslims residing in the emirate of Abu Dhabi to solve family disputes in a flexible manner.

Unilateral Divorce:

Pursuant to Article 6 of the new Decree, 'unilateral divorce' will be granted by the courts if either spouse expresses in Court their desire to separate and terminate the marriage, without any need to justify their reason or to demonstrate harm or to put the blame on the other part. Article 6 reads as, 'It is sufficient to grant a divorce if either spouse expresses in Court his/her desire to separate an terminate the matrimonial relationship, without need to justify his/her application, demonstrate the harm or put blame to the other party'

Further to the above, the New Decree clarifies that the divorce process can proceed without the mandatory pre-requirement of completing mediation steps, as was the case earlier. As part of the unilateral divorce process, either spouse may now directly approach the Court for the divorce without the prerequisite of submitting their request for mediation under the family guidance department(Article 7). Article 7 reads as " i) Either spouse may apply for divorce, without need to prove harm using the form prepared to this effect in Court. Divorce shall take effect by decision of the Court after notification of the other party, ii) Divorce shall take effect at the first session following the filing of the case in Court, without need to refer the case to family guidance (mediation), iii)Without prejudice to the provisions of civil code, the chairman, or his delegate, shall issue a decision regulating the procedures for filing the application stated in this Article and the fees thereof.

The new Decree applies to any non-muslim foreigner, whether it be a male or female, who has his or her domicile, or place of residence or place of work in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Further, pursuant to article 3, this law will apply to the said foreigner (as defined above) unless they request for the application of the law of their home country. The new Decree brings about the establishment of specialized family courts that will conduct the court procedures in both Arabic and English. This is a landmark change that will provide enhanced transparency and ease of understanding to ex-pats in their matters before the Court.

All in all, the new Decree is aimed at establishing advanced judicial procedures in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, allowing for a legal framework that closely reflects the international best practices as well as the culture, customs and language of the ex-pats in the region.

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