What Are the New Updates for Family Court Proceedings in the UAE?

family law


February 16, 2022



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Many groundbreaking legal changes have been introduced in the UAE in recent months. The new changes have been nothing short of revolutionary in terms of modernizing the existing rules and building a more flexible and expat-friendly environment. The decision to amend many of the strict Islamic laws and to modernize several elements of the family and personal laws aims to usher in multiculturalism and progressivism.

For the Emirate of Abu Dhabi:

A new decree-law on ‘Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi’ has been enacted to regulate personal status matters for non-Muslims (hereinafter “New Decree”). The new decree is aimed to provide innovative solutions, allowing foreigners residing in the emirate of Abu Dhabi to solve family disputes in a flexible manner. It comprises twenty articles covering several main topics, including civil marriage, divorce, joint custody of children and inheritance. The new decree also further clarifies the procedures and guidelines in calculating the ‘financial rights of a wife' in a divorce case, which are to be calculated based on several criteria such as the number of years of the marriage, age of the wife, economic status of both the parties etc.

The Newly Introduced Facets Include:

  • Unilateral Divorce (Article 6): According to Article 6 of the new decree, ‘unilateral divorce’ will be granted by the courts if either spouse expresses in court his or her desire to separate and terminate the marriage, without any need to justify their reason or to demonstrate harm or to put the blame on the other party.
  • Specialized Family Court: The new decree proposes the establishment of specialized family courts that will conduct the court procedures in both Arabic and English.
  • Recognition of Civil Marriage (Article 5): The new decree introduces the concept of ‘civil marriage’ based on the will of the husband and wife. Civil marriage is defined under the new decree as “The union of a man and a woman on a permanent basis, who are non-Muslim foreigners.
  • No requirement for Mediation (Article 7): As part of the unilateral divorce process, either spouse may now directly approach the court for the divorce without the prerequisite of submitting their request for mediation under the family guidance department, which was a mandatory pre-requirement earlier.

Other Changes on a Federal Level Include:

  • Place of Marriage as the Governing Law: The recent amendments introduced to the UAE Personal Status Law No. 28 of 2005 have made a critical change wherein the applicable law governing all matters relating to personal status law would be the law of the country where the parties were married. This is opposed to the previous position wherein the law of the husband’s nationality would take precedence.
  • Inheritance: The latest changes explicitly allow ex-pats to use the law of their home country for inheritance matters, but in the event that a registered will exists, the terms recorded in the will be followed.

The new changes, as we cited above, have been brought in line with international best practices to affect a unique law that encompasses even the smallest aspects of the family life of a non-Muslim. These changes are in further recognition of the two hundred different ex-pat nationalities who are residents of the UAE and endeavour to build a highly attractive living environment for all ex-pats in the UAE.

Legal Update:

The introduction of a new personal status law for the non-Muslims effective February 2023, the Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022 on Civil Personal Status, brings with itself numerous changes in terms of marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance etc. Following the issuance of the Abu Dhabi Personal Status Law for non-Muslim Foreigners in 2021, the federal government came out with a Personal Status Law that would apply to the entire non-Muslim population of the UAE, whether citizens or expatriates.

This New Federal Law has introduced changes in personal status matters for non-Muslims in matters related to family guidance mediation, rights between the parties concerning testimony, inheritance, divorce, calculation of time-based on the Gregorian calendar, and joint custody of children. The New Federal Law has introduced civil marriage at a federal level and provided equal rights to parties in requesting the divorce. The New Federal Law covers matters related to alimony, custody, inheritance, and parentage and shall be applied between non-Muslim expatriate residents in case none of them wanted to apply his/her home country's law in the UAE.

There is no mandatory mediation in the family matter before the commencement of the court case. The Divorce cases shall be excluded from being considered by family guidance committees and shall be directly referred to the Court to issue a judgment in this regard from the first session. If the New Federal Law was applied, the divorce could be given to any of the parties based on a no-fault divorce in the first court hearing where none of the parties may be required to provide any reason for the divorce. To know more information about this law, please feel free to click this link.

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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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