On Wednesday (1 February), a new family law for non-Muslims living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), called the Federal Personal Status Law, came into force. These laws will apply to non-Muslim expatriates or foreigners residing in the UAE and cover various aspects of family law such as marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, wills and paternity.
Although these laws came into effect on February 1, 2023, reforms were approved on November 27, 2021 by the late President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who imposed more than 40 Various laws were amended, making it one of the most significant legislative reforms in the country.
Why are these laws needed?
The new reforms to the UAE’s judicial system stem from Abu Dhabi’s civil family court system, which allows non-Muslim couples to divorce or marry without adhering to Sharia law, similar to wedding registries in the UK and Europe, even in their own countries legal law.
While Abu Dhabi adopted the practice in November 2021, this year the personal status law will be extended to all seven emirates, including Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Haj horse corner.
What was the situation before the new law?
Earlier expatriates or non-Muslims living in the UAE had to follow the Shariah system when filing for divorce in the local UAE courts, even if it differed from the laws of their home country, resulting in more people resorting to divorce or marriage procedures outside the UAE.
In addition, an early consensual or common-law relationship between two adults is criminalized. However, the UAE did not legalize common-law relationships and illegitimate pregnancy until 2020, easing restrictions on many personal aspects.
According to the UAE’s state news agency WAM, the purpose of passing the new law is to “regulate marriages, conditions, and procedures for concluding and recording marriages in competent courts,” thus making it possible for non-Muslims to marry or divorce legally through non-Shariah procedures.
What are the main provisions of the law?
a marriage: Non-Muslim couples aged 21 and over can now marry without the consent of the wife’s father or guardian. Marriages were earlier required to have multiple male witnesses, but this requirement has now been dropped, meaning that marriages can simply be carried out on the “will of both spouses”, who have to fill out a declaration form in front of the judge.
B) Divorce: It can now be initiated by mutual consent, or even by one spouse alone. Articles 6, 7 and 8 of the Abu Dhabi Laws elaborate on the aspect of “no-fault divorce”, whereby a spouse may file for a divorce without proving that their partner was at fault or caused harm during the marriage. Previous requirements for mediation and family counseling have been abolished. Divorce can now be granted in a timely and efficient manner at the first hearing.
A new post-divorce petition has also been created for alimony, child support, alimony, or other family requests. If there is a disagreement on financial aspects such as alimony, the court should take into account the duration of the marriage, the financial situation of the spouses and the age of the wife.
C) Witness testimony: Women were given equal opportunity in cases where witnesses were required, meaning a woman’s testimony was now the same as that of a man. Moreover, this equality extends to issues such as property, inheritance, and divorce.
D) Custody: After a divorce, joint child custody is awarded to both parents unless either of them objects. Joint custody is the default norm until children reach adulthood or turn 18, after which they can decide for themselves. In case of dispute, the court shall decide in the best interests of the child.
In contrast, earlier, custody would remain mandatory in the hands of the mother for daughters up to 13 years old and sons up to 11 years old. Only when the child is over the required age can the father claim custody.
4) Inheritance: A11: Foreign non-Muslims can now give property to anyone by will. If the alien dies without a will or without a will, their property and assets will be divided equally between their surviving spouse and children. If there are no children, the property is divided equally between the surviving siblings and parents.
According to early Islamic law, in the absence of a will, most of the estate of the deceased would pass to their sons.However, now if a person dies without a will, both sons and daughters are entitled to inherit equally
5) Parent-child relationship: The new law also deals with paternity, where marriage or the declaration of the father or mother are the main indicators. If the identities of the parents are not known, DNA testing is legally available. Previously, only married couples could apply for birth certificates for their unborn children, but now, even unmarried mothers can.