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family law


December 24, 2018

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I want a divorce - but wait, is my marriage even recognised?

Question: My husband and I were married in the US. I am a Muslim and he is a Christian. We moved to Dubai with our three children nearly five years ago after he was offered a job. Recently my husband has begun to change his behavior towards us, acting abusively. He previously cheated on me but I forgave him. I no longer want to live with him but I am unsure how to get a divorce in Dubai if my marriage was not legalised here in the first place.

Answer: The UAE is governed by Islamic law under which it is prohibited for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man. This law makes your marriage invalid in the UAE. Regardless of the nationality of the residents, the following Islamic provisions apply to marriages in the UAE: the groom and the bride must be Muslims, and if the groom is Muslim, the bride must be Muslim, Christian or Jewish. A Muslim man may marry a woman who is a Christian or a Jewish provided that the marriage is contracted as per Islamic rituals. It is therefore likely that a divorce application in the UAE will be dismissed on the grounds that the marriage was not valid in this country to begin with. The wife can submit an application to the court requesting an annulment of her marriage because it is invalid. It should be noted though that on applying for the annulment, the court may ask to refer the case to the Prosecution for criminal investigation to see there was a physical relationship between the couple and if they were living together - which is illegal in the UAE unless the couple is legally married.

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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