New Law on Divorce and Civil Marriage for Non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi

March 1, 2024

The legislation is the Emirates’ first civil law addressing non-Muslim family concerns. Under civil law, non-Muslims can marry, divorce, and have joint custody of their children in Abu Dhabi. It implies that they are able to do so in the country. For non-Muslims, Abu Dhabi's new non-Muslim Personal Status Law (Abu Dhabi Law No 14/2021 on the emirate of Abu Dhabi's Civil Marriage and its Executive Regulations No 8 of 2022) provides a more flexible and advanced court system for resolving personal status disputes. Couples no longer have to show that their marriage was in trouble before filing for divorce under the new Abu Dhabi Non-Muslim Personal Status Law. Non-Muslims residing in the UAE formerly had to marry in their home country’s embassy or consulate. According to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, the goal of this move is to make it easier for non-Muslims to have their personal status disputes settled through a flexible and advanced judicial system. This will make the Emirate even more attractive to people who want to live and work there.

What is the Personal Status Law for Non-Muslims?

The Personal Status Law for the Non-Muslim was signed by the President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan. The law relating to civil marriage for non-Muslim is the Emirates’ first law addressing non-Muslim family concerns. According to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, the legislation intends to give non-Muslims the right to adhere to “internationally recognized law” in terms of traditions, culture, and language and safeguard their children’s best interests. In the Gulf nations, the first of its type, where divorce laws and civil marriage for non-Muslims are governed by Islamic Sharia law. The new legislation would apply to Divorce and Civil Marriage for Non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi.

Establishment of separate Courts

Under the new law, the Judicial Department will establish courts dedicated to non-Muslim family matters that will operate in Arabic and English to facilitate foreigners’ understanding of judicial procedures and to increase judicial transparency.

Composition of Civil Law

According to the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD), the legislation consists of twenty Articles separated into five chapters that address civil marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.

  • The first chapter of the new law modifies the method for foreigners marrying by including the notion of civil marriage occurring at the will of the husband and wife.
  • The second chapter establishes regulations for non-Muslim divorce proceedings, including the rights of divorced couples and the financial rights of a divorced woman. After separation, a court would determine a wife’s monetary entitlements based on factors such as the number of years of marriage, the wife’s age, and each spouse’s economic position.
  • The third chapter discusses child custody after divorce. It establishes the notion of joint custody, in which the mother and father have equal custody of their kid. Maintaining the family’s cohesion after divorce and safeguarding the children’s psychological health is the main concept of the Law.
  • The fourth chapter defines inheritance rules, requires non-Muslims to register their wills, and provides a foreigner’s ability to create a will and pass on their possessions to whoever they desire.
  • The fifth chapter of the legislation concerns non-Muslim immigrants’ paternity evidence, “provided that the newborn child’s paternity is established by marriage or acknowledgment of fatherhood.”

What has changed in Abu Dhabi’s laws towards non-Muslims?

Sharia law mandates that the bride and groom be Muslims, or that the groom be Muslim and the bride is Christian. While Muslim males are authorized to marry non-Muslim women, the reverse is not permitted.

  • No consent from the bride’s Guardian is required. The new law eliminates the need for the agreement of the bride’s Guardian and instead demands the marriage to be solely between the man and woman. Non-Muslims may seek divorce without proving that the civil marriage was abusive, and any partner may petition for divorce. Previously, the bodily injury had to be established to get a divorce (According to Khaleej Times).
  • Divorce to be issued at First Hearing Previously, couples were required to visit the Family Guidance department after filing for divorce, where a court-appointed conciliator attempted to reconcile the parties. Now, divorces may be granted at the first hearing without going through these lengthy procedures.
  • Joint and equal sharing of Child Custody When it comes to child custody, although the current legislation permits both spouses to have joint custody and equally share custody upon divorce, formerly, custody was granted to the mother, and the father was designated as the child’s Guardian (to provide financial support). According to the previous law, custody and guardianship are two distinct matters that must be resolved separately since parents in the UAE do not share equal parental duties for their children. 

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