Many groundbreaking legal changes have been introduced in the UAE in recent months. The new changes have been nothing short of revolutionary in terms of modernizing the existing rules and building a more flexible and expat-friendly environment. The decision to amend many of the strict Islamic laws and to modernize several elements of the family and personal laws aims to usher in multiculturalism and progressivism.

For the Emirate of Abu Dhabi:

A new decree-law on 'Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi' has been enacted to regulate personal status matters for non-Muslims (hereinafter "New Decree"). The new decree is aimed to provide innovative solutions, allowing foreigners residing in the emirate of Abu Dhabi to solve family disputes in a flexible manner. It comprises twenty articles covering several main topics, including civil marriage, divorce, joint custody of children and inheritance. The new decree also further clarifies the procedures and guidelines in calculating 'financial rights of a wife' in a divorce case, which are to be calculated based on several criteria such as the number of years of the marriage, age of the wife, economic status of both the parties etc.

The newly introduced facets include:

  • Unilateral Divorce(Article 6): Pursuant to Article 6 of the new decree, 'unilateral divorce' will be granted by the courts if either spouse expresses in court his or her 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 party.
  • Specialized Family court: The new decree proposes the establishment of specialized family courts that will conduct the court procedures in both Arabic and English.
  • Recognition of Civil Marriage  (Article 5): The new decree introduces the concept of 'civil marriage' based on the will of the husband and wife. Civil marriage is defined under the new decree as "The union of a man and a woman on a permanent basis, who are Non-Muslim foreigners.
  • No requirement for Mediation  (Article 7): 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, which was a mandatory pre- requirement earlier.

Other changes on a federal level include:

  • Place of marriage as the governing law:  The recent amendments introduced to the UAE Personal Status Law No. 28 of 2005 have made a critical change wherein the applicable law governing all matters relating to personal status law would be the law of the country where the parties were married. This is opposed to the previous position wherein the law of the husband's nationality would take precedence.
  • Inheritance: The latest changes explicitly allow ex-pats to use the law of their home country for inheritance matters, but in the event that a registered will exists, the terms recorded in the will be followed.

The new changes, as we cited above, have been brought in line with international best practices to affect a unique law that encompasses even the smallest aspects of the family life of a non-Muslim. These changes are in further recognition of the two hundred different ex-pat nationalities who are residents of the UAE and endeavor to build a highly attractive living environment for all ex-pats in the UAE.

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.