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Are you an expat and looking for a divorce in the UAE? Things you must know

People who were married outside the country and are present residents of the UAE can usually seek Divorce through civil processes or personal religious convictions. Contrary to popular belief, many foreigners choose to go via the UAE court system to handle their divorces since it is both speedier and less expensive in the long run.

In the UAE, mutually agreed-upon divorces can be concluded in as little as one month. When dealing with a failing marriage, most people consider Divorce to be their last option. However, many foreigners are uninformed of how Divorce works in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Most overseas expatriates have issues ranging from jurisdiction to child custody to the legal reasons for Divorce.

Laws relating to Divorce for expats in the UAE

It should be emphasized that divorce decrees for Muslim marriages can be obtained under Sharia Law, whilst divorce processes for non-Muslim marriages can be obtained by Federal Law No. 28 of 2008, generally known as the Personal Status Law. Non-Muslims are permitted to use the personal laws of the nation where their marriage was solemnized under this policy—provided that they have legalized copies of their country’s rules translated and certified by a translator and the Ministry of Justice.

Non-Muslim expatriates have the option to file for divorce in their home country or the UAE, and they can also request to apply their own country’s law to their divorce case. However, if they choose to divorce in their home country, they need to follow some steps to make sure their divorce is recognized and valid in the UAE. These steps include:

  • Getting a legal translation of their divorce decree
  • Having it attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
  • Updating their personal status records with UAE authorities

If they choose to apply for divorce in the UAE, they must follow Federal Law No. 28 of 2005, also known as the Personal Status Law, which regulates personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody for non-Muslims. However, according to Article 1 of this law, non-Muslims can request to apply their laws to personal status matters, as long as they do not contradict public order or morals. This means that relevant parties may ask to apply their home country’s laws rather than UAE legislation.

New Amendment for Divorce Laws for Expats in the UAE

According to Article 1 of Federal Law No. 29 of 2020 on Personal Status Matters Amendments:

  • The provisions of this Law shall apply to the citizens of the UAE State unless non-Muslims among them have special provisions applicable to their community or confession.
  • The provisions of the Law shall apply to non-citizens, unless any of them insists on implementing the law of their country.

The law also states that the husband’s nationality at the time of marriage determines the law that applies to the personal and property consequences of the marriage. If the law of the spouses’ home country does not address a certain issue related to the divorce process, UAE courts can decide to use UAE law instead.

You should know: Divorce in UAE and Division of Property and Assets

Muslims and UAE nationals are still subject to federal personal status law, which is based on Islamic Sharia.

1.    Procedure for seeking Divorce in the UAE for Expats

  1. Individuals must first contact the Personal Status Court’s Family Guidance Section with an application and a marriage document.
  2. A counsellor will listen to the individuals’ resentment and reconcile both parties to salvage the marriage.
  3. If one or both parties do not agree to join forces, the counsellor will urge both parties to bring the conditions of settlement and Divorce.
  4. If one of the parties disagrees with the terms of the Divorce and settlement, they can file a disputed divorce in the Personal Status Court.
  5. As a result, the Personal Status Court’s Family Guidance Section will issue a letter for a disputed divorce that will be definitive for three months.
  6. If the couple agrees to Divorce, the Personal Status Court will issue each party an Arabic-translated divorce certificate.

2.    Divorce Laws for Civil Marriages in the UAE

Civil marriages in the UAE are marriages not based on any religious or customary rites but on the mutual consent of the parties and the registration of the marriage contract in a civil authority. Civil marriages in the UAE are governed by Law No. (14) of 2021 concerning Civil Marriage and its Effects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (the “Law”). The Law applies to foreigners who have a civil marriage contract registered in a foreign country or the UAE and who wish to divorce in the UAE.

  • No-Fault Divorce Concept:

According to the Law, civil divorce is based on the principle of no-fault divorce. Under Article 6 of the Law, to claim the divorce, one of the spouses declares before the Court their willingness to separate and end the marital relationship, without the need to justify such request, prove any damage suffered, or blame the other party.

  • Civil Divorce Procedures under the Law:

Civil divorce is a legal option for spouses who want to end their marriage without following any religious law. In the UAE, civil divorce is available for both non-Muslim citizens and expat couples, as long as they meet certain conditions. The main steps to apply for civil divorce are:

    1. Fill out a civil divorce application form in Arabic and English and submit it to the court with the required documents and fees.
    2. Wait for the court to approve the application and set a date for the hearing, which should be at least 30 days later.
    3. Receive a notification of the hearing date by mail, email, or phone.
    4. Prepare a defence memo if you are the defendant and want to challenge the jurisdiction of the court or address any other issue related to the divorce.
    5. Attend the hearing and express your desire to divorce before the judge, who will issue a divorce ruling based on the evidence and arguments presented.

You may want to know: New Law reform relating to Divorce in the UAE

Things to know when seeking a Divorce in the UAE

  1. Custody of children and child support

According to UAE law, the biological mother of a child is the custodian, while the father is the guardian. Custody, which is frequently granted to the mother, entails day-to-day care, such as education, medical treatment, religious counselling, and accommodation. The guardian is responsible for financial assistance; often, the father is appointed as guardian. In the United Arab Emirates, custody and guardianship are distinct concepts. A minor child is often given to the mother. She must demonstrate that she is sensible, mature, honest, disease-free, and capable of raising a child. Furthermore, she is not permitted to remarry without the court’s authorization. If a father is granted custody, he must have a woman – such as a female relative – at home to care for the kid.

  1. Separation of property

Property split is a different aspect of Divorce. It may apply to anything in the UAE, from bank accounts and real estate to companies and automobiles. In general, each party will keep all property or assets that are in their name. Furthermore, a court would distribute joint assets equally between the two parties, like bank accounts in both partners’ names. Real estate is a crucial factor, particularly the marital home. Judges prefer to allocate the matrimonial house to the caretaker so that the children may live as normally as possible when their parents separate.

  1. Maintenance for a spouse

When the Divorce is finalized, the husband is required to support his former wife financially. A husband must provide food, clothes, and proper housing for his ex-wife and children. The father is also responsible for paying for his children’s education and the salary of any domestic worker, such as a maid or a driver. Spousal maintenance can be up to 30% of the husband’s salary, but he can pay more if he wants to.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the subject. This article was produced with great care to ensure correctness. Because individual circumstances may vary, it is not meant to give legal advice or predict a specific conclusion. Readers considering legal action should seek legal advice from an experienced divorce attorney to learn about current laws and how they may apply to their case.

Don’t hesitate to contact our Best Divorce lawyers in Dubai if you require any legal assistance on the subject presented or related issues.

Hassan Humaid Al Suwaidi., LL.B. is a Senior Partner in HHS Lawyers. He has 20 years of experience dealing with high-value and complex cases. Frequently featured in local and international legal directories and commended for his ability to attain favorable outcomes for clients, Hassan has been involved in some of the largest legal settlements. A major part of his work is providing expert legal advice on UAE legislation and acting for individuals and businesses during disputes and litigation.