Law on Family Matters for Expatriates Living in the UAE: Part I

family law


April 07, 2022



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The United Arab Emirates is a host to millions of expatriates and foreigners who have made the UAE their home. As a result, the UAE laws also cater to these expatriates and foreigners. One of the key areas of law relevant to expatriates and foreigners is that of family matters and how they are applied to foreigners in the UAE.

In this ongoing series, we will explore and discuss the current laws governing family matters in the UAE, their application on expatriates and non-citizens, new changes brought about by recent UAE laws and their impact on expatriates, and important considerations that expatriates need to be aware of concerning family law matters.

This is Part I of the ongoing series of articles.

Laws Governing Family Matters

Family law matters and disputes in the UAE are regulated by:

  1. Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 (UAE Personal Status Law), as amended,
  2. Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022 (UAE Civil Personal Status),
  3. Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 on Civil Transactions Law (Civil Transactions Law), as amended,
  4. Abu Dhabi Law No. 14 of 2021 On the Civil Marriage and Its Effects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi Personal Status Law), applicable in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Jurisdiction of the Federal Laws

The UAE courts have jurisdiction on personal status matters where the defendant is a UAE citizen or a foreigner with UAE residence. In case the respondent is not a UAE resident, UAE courts could still have jurisdiction on family matters in certain cases, where:

  1. the claimant is based in the UAE and the respondent’s location is unknown; and
  2. the child is a resident of the UAE; or
  3. the marriage was contracted in the UAE; or
  4. the respondent chooses to define UAE as their domicile.

When a spouse files a case in the UAE, it is common practice for the other spouse to file a case in their home country for suspending or restricting the case filed in the UAE. However, it has been well established by the UAE courts that an existing court case in a foreign court may not restrict or suspend the UAE courts from deciding the same application filed in the UAE. Such a case filed in the home country will therefore not impede the case filed in the UAE.

Types of Dissolution of Marriage

In case parties decide to dissolve their marriage, two options are available to them: divorce by mutual consent; or a contested divorce.

Divorce by Mutual Consent: In a divorce by mutual consent, spouses enter into an amicable divorce settlement to resolve issues related to their marriage, including custody, alimony and maintenance. Both parties sign an application before the Family Guidance Department for the mutual divorce and the proceedings conclude within 1 – 2 months.

Contested Divorce: If there are disagreements between the parties or one of the parties refuses to give its consent for divorce, the Muslim husband has a right to issue divorce to the wife without reason or fault. This right has also been extended to non-Muslims under the UAE Civil Personal Status, irrespective of gender.

As for Muslim wives, if they want, they can apply with the Family Guidance Department to initiate contested divorce proceedings. The Department will attempt to resolve the issues between the parties and on failure to resolve them, may issue a no-objection certificate to the parties, who will then proceed with the divorce proceedings before the family courts.

Usually, the courts will grant the divorce if the courts find that a spouse is facing harm (such as adultery, physical violence, verbal abuse, physical separation for a long period, or non-payment of maintenance) making the courts believe that living together would be impossible for the parties.

As per recent amendments to the UAE Personal Status Law, a wife has to prove her claims which could be through witnesses presented before the courts, to support her claims and arguments. If the wife is unable to prove her claim, the case can be dismissed. In this case, the wife would have the right to file a second application before the court to obtain the divorce. Arbitrators would be appointed in the second application who will decide whether the divorce will be granted or not.

These rules do not apply to non-Muslim wives based in the UAE. As per the UAE Civil Personal Status, the wife will get the divorce on a no-fault basis, meaning that she can get divorced without having to prove any damage on part of the husband. Further, non-Muslims are not required to go through the Family Guidance Department for reconciliation; their cases will be instituted in the courts directly.


While the dissolution of marriage is one aspect of personal law matters, questions regarding claims in a divorce, the custody and relocation of children and inheritance, which are governed by the UAE laws, are important considerations too.

What if the parties want to apply a foreign law in the UAE for their matters? What amounts are payable by the husband to the wife at the time of divorce? We will explore these pertinent questions and more in the next Part of this series.

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.

Read the other parts here: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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Disclaimer: There have been recent changes/amendments in the provisions of the UAE Family Law covered in the content on this website. The views and opinions in the articles are contemporaneous with the time of its publication only and do not necessarily address any matters after the recent amendments of the law or supreme court decisions issued after the date of this publication. The content of this website contains general information and may not reflect current legal developments. Such content is designed only to give general information on the developments actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of recent developments in the law, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice or render a legal opinion. Since the law is constantly changing and since the law will vary based on different facts and circumstances, statements on this website regarding the status of a given law or legal issue may not be current or applicable to your particular situation. You should not take any action based on the information in this website. Each legal issue depends on its individual facts and different matters have different laws and regulations. We may make changes to the features, functionality or content of the website at any time.


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