UAE’s New Family Law for Non-Muslim Expatriates Comes into Effect from February 1, 2023
As an effort to develop its legislative system, a new family law will come into effect from February 1, 2023 for non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE. The new law covers key family matters including marriage, divorce, custody of children, proof of paternity and inheritance. The law will further modernise the UAE legal system and here are the details.
As per the new law, non-Muslim couples can marry and get divorce in a non-Sharia legal process. Previously, non-Muslim couples seeking divorce from a local court had to follow a Sharia-based legal process, which is entirely different from the procedure in their home country. The new law will ensure that people can get married or seek divorce irrespective of their faith or background.
Another change is that, a non-Muslim man and woman can now get married based on their own will and the consent from the woman’s father or guardian is no longer required. The need to have several male Muslims as witnesses at the wedding have also been removed. Also, the spouses must be 21 years old to get married.
When it comes to divorces, spouses can now seek ‘no fault divorce’ which means there is no need to prove that harm was done in the marriage. Either spouse can approach the court asking for a divorce without proving that one of the partners was at fault. Mandatory mediation and counselling sessions are also no longer required and divorce can now be granted in the first hearing itself. Alimony or support payments and other requests can be submitted using a “post-divorce request form”. If there is a financial dispute in the divorce case, several factors such as the length of the marriage, age of the wife and the financial status of both the spouses will be taken into account before coming to a conclusion.
The custody of children post parents’ divorce was quite complicated earlier. Mother was given custody of son and daughter until they reached the ages of 11 and 13 respectively and father could claim custody once they reach the said ages. In the new reform, joint and equal custody of children will be granted to both parents after divorce. Custody disputes will have court’s intervention and the decision on the matter will be made with primary consideration on the best interests of the child.
Also, the new law ensures that a foreigner can write a will giving their property to the person they wish to. If the will is absent, half of their properties will go to the surviving spouse and the other half will be distributed among the deceased’s children equally. Previously, the Sharia-based system was in place, which suggested that a son would inherit a larger share. In the absence of children, the inheritance will go to the deceased parents or split equally among parents and siblings. Non-Muslims should register their wills during the signing of their marriage.
Lastly, for proof of paternity, the new law for non-Muslims will be based on marriage or the recognition of paternity. DNA tests will be done in the case where the parents are unknown. New rules were already in place where unmarried mothers can get the birth certificate of the child even without the presence of the partner.
The new family law is revolutionary as it promotes equal rights for both men and women. Earlier, in 2021, Abu Dhabi saw revolutionary changes in the family law and this will be extended to the other parts of the country by February 2023. A dedicated family court for non-Muslims was opened in Abu Dhabi in lines with the legal reforms. For more details on the new reform, contact the Al Nahda Centre, Dubai.
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