The United Arab Emirates announce updates to marriage, divorce and youngster custody legal guidelines

The new legislation applies to non-Muslims and will come into effect on February 1, 2023…

The UAE government on Friday announced a new federal decree providing reforms to a range of family matters for non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE.

The federal law on civil status comes into effect on February 1, 2023 and provides for Abu Dhabi’s civil family court system to be introduced in the rest of the Emirates. Family law reforms affect marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance and aim to further modernize the UAE’s legal system.

About marriage

The new law will “regulate the conditions of marriage and the procedures for concluding and documenting the marriage before the competent courts,” according to the state news agency WAM. This will allow non-Muslim couples to marry in a non-Sharia legal process.

Conditions will be that those wishing to marry must be at least 21 years of age and the parties must fill out a declaration form in front of a judge.

Since February 2022, this has applied in Abu Dhabi, where non-Muslim couples can exchange vows in civil court, similar to a civil marriage in the UK or Europe. From February 2023 it will be available throughout the United Arab Emirates.

For divorce

The UAE government statement states that according to the new decree, “the divorce proceedings may be initiated jointly or unilaterally. She organizes the processing of property claims after the divorce and the regulation of joint custody of the children.”

According to The National, either spouse can now petition the court to terminate the marriage without either party having to prove fault or justifying the need for the marriage to terminate. Divorce can be granted after a hearing and there is no need to go through family counseling or meditation sessions that were previously required.

If a divorced couple has children, joint and equal custody of the children is automatically granted until the children reach the age of 18. In custody disputes, the court may take further action and intervene, always having regard to the best interests of the child or children. If testimony is required, a woman’s testimony must be treated on an equal footing with a man’s testimony.

Financial alimony will also be based on multiple factors, with the courts considering the length of the marriage, the age of the wife, and the financial status of both husband and wife.

On the subject of inheritance

The new law will allow non-Muslims to register wills at the same time as their marriage certificate, allowing them to give their property to whoever they want.

In the absence of a will, 50 percent of a person’s estate goes to their spouse, while the other 50 percent is divided equally among all children. If the couple has no children, the 50 percent goes to either the surviving parents or to the siblings.

Further UAE law updates

This federal regulation is the latest in a series of changes to UAE law aimed at modernizing the country’s legal system. In October 2022, Law No. 10 of 2022 provided that children born outside of marriage or a relationship are entitled to obtain a birth certificate.

In January 2022, reforms announced in November 2021 came into force, effectively decriminalizing extramarital relationships and pregnancy and allowing unmarried couples to live together.

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