The divorce of expatriates in the UAE before the UAE Courts may be regulated by the law of the United Arab Emirates or by the personal law of marriage.

The UAE Civil Code understands by personal law of marriage, "the law of the state of which the husband is a national at the time of marriage [...]".

The application of the law of a foreign country to a marriage in the UAE implies that the spouses must prove such legislation, by legalizing codes or legal opinions prepared by practicing lawyers in the country of nationality of the husband.

This potential application of various legislations leads to the suitability to prepare a practical comparison of the different variables to be evaluated by the couple during the negotiation phase. For example, the parties could reach agreement under foreign law and register such agreement before the local courts. Local Courts indeed tend to accept the terms agreed by the spouses – subject to procedural due process having been respected and the children's interests (if applicable) protected.

Divorce proceedings can take between 2 and 12 months, depending on whether the divorce is settled amicably or rather requires litigation. These timings could be impacted if a foreign law (that of the personal law of marriage) was to be applied to the proceedings.

Divorce proceedings in the UAE take place in two consecutive phases. First, the local authority will try to mediate between the spouses aiming first to solve the marriage, if possible, and if not, will encourage the spouses to reach an amicable solution.

If this first phase is unproductive, the competent authority will forward the case to the local courts in front of which the litigation stage shall take place if either spouse does pursue the action after the mediation.

The UAE Civil Status Act establishes the rights and obligations of the potential divorce. We describe these below as a first step in the evaluation of the separation. The same would need to be compared with the law of other potential jurisdictions, especially the personal law of the husband. However, in the UAE it is not unusual to have divorces dealt with under the law of other other jurisdictions such as the law of the country where the couple got married. This takes place by the spouses' express agreement.

What are the Spouses' Rights?

Article 52 of the UAE Civil Status Act grants the spouse who made a contribution or payment at the beginning of the marriage the right to recoup it. This compensation can, however, be replaced by a pension for the maintenance of spousal expenses.

Article 67 of the UAE Civil Status Act grants women alimony in order to ensure the smooth transition of personal status – from married to divorced. This pension will be calculated on the basis of the husband's incomings. The practice allows to predict a percentage in the range 25- 40% from his gross salary – being 25% the norm. The right to receive this compensation would arise from the moment the husband stopped supporting the spouse financially (even if it takes place prior to the divorce itself).

Article 69 of the UAE Civil Status Act grants divorced not pregnant women the right to have residence expenses paid by the ex-husband for a period of time to be assessed on case by case basis.


Generally, the mother would hold custody of the children until the age of 11 years (girls) or 14 years (boys); age after which, the custody would be transferred to the father until the children reached legal maturity – in the UAE, 21 years.

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.