Know the Difference Between an ‘Annulment’ and ‘Divorce’ in the UAE

family law


April 28, 2021



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There is a legal difference between the terms ‘Annulment’ and ‘Divorce’. Both terms relate to marriage contracts and have very distinct meanings and resultant procedures to each.

Annulment of a Marriage

Annulment of a marriage contract can be defined as the legal procedure by which the marriage itself is declared null and void. Certain legal requirements are to be met for a marriage to be considered valid and hence enforceable. These conditions constitute the minimum requirement of marriage.

The legal requirements for a valid marriage are varied and can be broadly classified as: “Legal requirements for a “Sharia or Muslim Marriage” and “Legal Requirements for a Non-Muslim Marriage.

Legal Requirements for a Muslim Marriage:

Certain key legal requirements are to be met for a Muslim marriage to be recognized as a valid marriage in the UAE.

The Major Requirements are as follows:

  • A marriage contract has to be registered in a Sharia Court in the UAE.

  • The requirements towards the legal age of marriage are to be met. The legal age for a Muslim marriage is 18 Hijri years.

  • If the minimum age for marriage is not met, special approval from the judge must be obtained prior.

  • Similarly, it is required that the age of a spouse should not be more than twice the age of the other person. If this is so, then also, the parties must obtain special approval prior from the judge before the marriage.

  • The procedures towards ‘premarital screening’ should be complied and such a certificate should be obtained.

  • For the marriage, the attendance of the bride’s father or his legal proxy is mandatory, along with the presence of two Muslim male witnesses.

  • For the marriage to be valid, the attendance of the couple is mandatory.

  • The woman must obtain the consent of her legal guardian for the marriage.

  • When the father of the bride is deceased, then the legal guardian would be the closest male kin, which is usually the elder brother, and his presence is mandatory for the marriage.

  • For the validity of the re-marriage of a divorced or widowed woman, the proof of status document must be produced.

  • There are certain instances wherein the specific ‘no -objection certificate is required as well. This includes an instance wherein the bride is Muslim, and her father is non-Muslim. In such a case, a ‘No-objection certificate’ is required to be submitted from the bride’s embassy or consulate.

Legal Requirements for a Non-Muslim Marriage:

For the legal validity of a non-Muslim marriage, the major conditions for validity are:

  • Spouses must have attained 21 years of age as per the Gregorian calendar

  • Marriage must not be within the prohibited degrees

  • Both spouses must have consented to the marriage before the judge

  • Spouses must sign a disclosure form stating that they are not already married

The UAE identifies marriage as a legal contract between a man and a woman which aims to protect the rights of the couple as well as the children born to them. When the prerequisite conditions that are required to constitute a marriage are not met, the marriage is considered to have never existed in the eyes of the law and thereby becomes null and void. This procedure for nullification of a marriage is termed “Annulment”.


The proceedings and the legality of divorce are completely different from that of an annulment. A divorce proceeding applies to a marriage that is valid in all aspects and thereby requires to be dissolved through the process of law.

This procedure is very different from that of an annulment as in the instance of an annulment; the marriage is stated to have “never existed” at all. Annulment of a marriage is rarely granted in the UAE courts for a variety of reasons. When allowed, the annulment is granted only for the very specific grounds alone e.g., such as when the minimum age for marriage is not met.

Unlike annulment for a divorce to be allowed, the parties should come together and complete the process for mutual divorce in consensus. If not, either party should approach the Court for a divorce based on the conditions constituting ‘harm’ to a given party and thereby necessitating that the divorce is allowed by the Courts, or for a divorce by unilateral will without showing the damage or proving blame, as the case may be.

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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