Abu Dhabi enacts new guidelines on divorce, inheritance and custody of non-Muslims

File image: Tourists walk through the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates at dusk | Image credit: AP

Key highlights

  • The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven sheikdoms, and the new law only affects one of them: Abu Dhabi
  • The decree was issued by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan from Abu Dhabi
  • A new court will be set up in Abu Dhabi for non-Muslim family matters

Dubai: A new decree from the ruler of Abu Dhabi on Sunday will allow non-Muslims to marry, divorce and have joint custody of their children under civil law, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The United Arab Emirates’ civil status laws on marriage and divorce were, as in other Gulf states, influenced by Sharia principles.

According to the decree of Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, who is also President of the UAE Union of the Seven Emirates, marriage, alimony, divorce, inheritance, joint custody and proof of paternity are covered by law.

The country’s state news agency said the decree aims to “improve the emirate’s position and global competitiveness as one of the most attractive destinations for talent and skills.”

The report cites civil law governing non-Muslim family matters as the first of its kind in the world “in accordance with international best practices”.

A new court will be established in Abu Dhabi for non-Muslim family matters, serving both English and Arabic.

A number of federal legislative changes were introduced by the UAE in 2020, including the decriminalization of premarital sexual relations and alcohol consumption and the lifting of leniency programs in “honor killings”.

With these reforms and the introduction of longer-term visas, the Gulf state hopes to become more attractive for foreign investors, tourists and long-term residents.

This year, the United Arab Emirates as a whole announced another plan to intensify economic growth and ease the strict residence requirements for foreigners.

The UAE is made up of seven sheikdoms, and the new law only affects one of them: Abu Dhabi. Although oil-rich Abu Dhabi is the country’s capital, its population pales in comparison to neighboring Dubai. In September 2020, Abu Dhabi abolished its alcohol licensing program.

The United Arab Emirates still cling to traditional Islamic values. Unions and political parties are not allowed in the UAE.

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