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Understanding UAE Non-Muslim Family Laws: A Guide to Marriage, Divorce, and Inheritance in the UAE

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October 31, 2023


In the UAE, non-Muslims have a specific legal framework to follow when it comes to marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Two significant laws govern these matters: Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 On Civil Personal Status and Abu Dhabi Law No. 14/2021 on Civil Marriage and its Effects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It offers a comprehensive guide for non-Muslim residents and citizens.

 

Non-Muslim Marriage: To contract a civil marriage in the UAE, non-Muslims must adhere to specific conditions and procedures outlined in both laws.

 
  • Age Requirement: Under Article 4 of Abu Dhabi Law No. 14/2021, both parties must be at least 18 years old, and verified using official documents. In contrast, under the Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 (Civil Personal Status Law), both spouses must have attained at least 21 years of age.
  • Consent and Legal Status: Both spouses must provide express consent and sign the Declaration Form to confirm their current marital status, ensuring there are no legal impediments to their marriage.
  • Prohibited Relationships: First-degree relatives are prohibited from marriage.
  • Additional Conditions: The Chairman of the Judicial Department can stipulate further conditions.
 

Article 5 of Abu Dhabi law and Article 6 of the Civil Status Law outline the process for civil marriage. The procedure includes submitting an application and completing the marriage contract before the Judge. The spouses can modify the contract with conditions, including their rights during and after marriage, ensuring the agreement's validity. Upon verifying that all the conditions for contracting a Civil Marriage are met and completing the procedures stipulated under the law, the Judge will approve the marriage contract. These provisions apply to male or female non-Muslim foreigners or citizens in the UAE.

 

Non-Muslim Divorce and Child Custody: Both laws outline procedures for non-Muslim couples' divorce.

 
  • Unilateral Divorce: Either spouse may divorce unilaterally or collectively. Either spouse can request a divorce without having to prove harm or justification.
  • Divorce Procedures: A divorce is initiated through a court judgment after one of the spouses files a divorce request.
  • Financial Support Upon Divorce: After a divorce judgment is issued, the wife can apply for alimony from her former husband. Post-divorce applications and their terms are at the judge's discretion, considering specific factors such as the duration of the marriage, the wife's age, the financial status of each spouse, the contribution to the divorce, compensation, financial liability, the mother's custody expenses, the wife's care of children, and the possibility of remarriage.
 

Joint Child Custody: Both laws address joint custody after divorce, with similar principles.

 
  • Child Custody: Both laws emphasize that child custody is a joint and equal right for both parents after divorce. This approach aims to ensure that children have both parents in their lives to keep them emotionally healthy and reduce the harm caused by divorce.
  • Responsibility Sharing: The fundamental principle of both laws is that parents, specifically the mother and father, share the responsibility for raising their children after divorce. However, some provisions allow for exceptions to this principle based on specific circumstances.
  • Exceptions from Joint Custody: Both laws allow for exceptions to the joint custody principle. Either parent can apply to the court to request sole custody if it is in the child's best interests. The reasons for requesting sole custody may include issues related to legal capacity, the risk of sharing custody with a specific party, or the failure of one parent to fulfil their duties.
  • Dispute Resolution: In cases where parents disagree on matters related to joint custody, both laws permit either parent to submit an application to the court to address and resolve the dispute. The court has the discretion to make decisions in the child's best interests.
 

Non-Muslim Inheritance and Will: Both laws address the distribution of inheritance and procedures for registering wills with similar principles.

 

Distribution of Inheritance: A non-Muslim person can leave a will specifying how their assets should be distributed, or it will be regulated by the Civil Personal Status Law and Abu Dhabi Law of 14/2021 for inheritance in the absence of a will. As per the law, inheritance is distributed among spouses, children, parents, and siblings, with equality between males and females.

 
  • Half of the inheritance goes to the husband or wife.
  • The other half is divided equally between children, without distinction between males and females.
  • If there are no children, inheritance goes to the parents equally if alive, or half to one if the other is deceased.
  • If both parents are deceased, all inheritance goes to the brothers of the deceased equally, without distinction between males and females.
 

An exception allows heirs of a foreigner to seek the application of the law applicable to inheritance as per Federal Law No. 5/1985 Civil Transactions Law unless there is a registered will to the contrary.

 

Procedures for Registering Wills: Wills of non-Muslims are registered in a dedicated register following prescribed procedures, and spouses can specify the distribution of assets at the time of signing the marriage contract.

Conclusion

These legal provisions provide a clear framework for non-Muslims in the UAE to navigate marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Understanding and adhering to these laws ensures that individuals can manage these features of their lives according to their preferences and unique circumstances.

Legal Update:
The above information might not apply if both parties are non-Muslim. Starting from the 1st of February 2023, UAE issued specific family law to be applied between non-Muslim expatriate residents in case none of them wanted to apply his/her home country's law in the UAE. To know more information about this law, please feel free to click this link.

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