Up until February 2023, the Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 Personal Status Law and some supplementary articles of the Civil Transactions Law of 1985 controlled personal concerns in the United Arab Emirates.
However, the government has recently proposed an entirely different law that is based on widely recognized traditions and customs in terms of family regulations in an effort to increase the UAE’s appeal to overseas expats.
The previously passed Abu Dhabi Law No. 14 of 2021 on Civil Marriage and its Effects in Abu Dhabi was followed by the new Federal Decree-Law, No. 41 of 2022, which went into effect on February 1, 2023.
These regulations will now govern family matters, including as marriage and divorce, for non-Muslim expat residents in the UAE. Muslim residents and foreigners in the UAE will still be subject to the Personal Status Law of 2005.
The procedure of divorce under the two laws—Federal Law No. 28/2005 on Personal Status (applicable to Muslims living in the country) and Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 on Civil Personal Status (applicable to non-Muslims living in the country)—is covered in the article that follows.
Muslim residents are covered under Federal Law No. 28/2005 on Personal Status.
Divorce, as defined by Article 98 of the Personal Status Law, is the termination of the parties’ legally binding marriage.
- Steps to initiate a divorce: The husband can start the divorce process, and in order for the woman to do so, she must either have this right under the terms of the marital contract or have the legal “harm” reasons.
When spoken or written communication is not possible, intelligible gestures can be used to communicate the divorce.According to Sharia law, a divorce can be declared by either spouse stating “talaq” (Arabic meaning “I divorce you”) in front of a witness. If a divorce is granted in this way, it will be legitimate for Muslims, but it must be registered with the courts in order to be recognized in the UAE. The court may also be asked directly by the spouses for a divorce ruling.
- Mediation: According to Article 98/3 of the law, the Family Guidance Committee must mediate between the spouses before referring the matter to the courts. The Committee’s counselors work to bring the parties together, and if that is not successful, the case goes before the judge.
- Grounds: Any one or more of the following may constitute grounds for divorce, which the judge will determine:
- According to Article 112 of the legislation, defects including insanity, leprosy, or those impeding physical contact might be grounds for divorce. Additionally, under Article 114 of the law, one spouse may be subject to a divorce petition if the other commits grave fraud.
- In a non-consummated marriage, the husband is not required to pay the wife a dowry (Article 116).
- Discord between the spouses, which makes it hard for the couple to stay together (Article 117).
- If the husband doesn’t provide for his wife financially, the law’s Article 124 applies.
- According to Article 129 of the legislation, the wife has the right to divorce the husband if he refuses to return home despite warning and lives in a known domicile. According to Article 130 of the law, the woman may file for divorce if the husband’s whereabouts remain unknown after an investigation and a year has passed.
- According to Article 131 of the law, the woman may request a divorce from her husband if he has received a term of more than three years in jail, as long as the request is made while the husband has already served more than a year of the sentence.
- According to Articles 132 and 133, the wife may file for divorce from the husband if they haven’t spoken for more than four months.
- Revocability of divorce: After filing for divorce, the wife must endure a “idda,” or waiting period, that lasts for roughly three months. Checking to see if the woman is pregnant is necessary. If the woman is expecting, the waiting period will continue until the baby is born. During this time, the husband will cover the wife’s expenses.The idda period gives the parties time to reconsider their choice to divorce, and they are free to stay married during this time if they so choose.
For non-Muslim residents, see Federal Decree-Law No. 41/2022 on Civil Personal Status.
- Uncontested Divorce: The spouses are not needed to give a reason for the divorce or assign blame to the other party under the new non-Muslim law.
Additionally, a divorce can be requested jointly or only by one party; in any event, the court must receive a case from the party requesting the divorce, and the divorce will only become effective after the other party has been notified, in accordance with Articles 7 and 8 of the law.
- Absence from Mediation: The new law also exempts the partners from the mediation procedure; as a result, parties seeking a divorce under the new law do not need to first seek reconciliation through the Family Guidance Committee but instead can move directly to court.According to the legislation, the wife is not need to wait and the divorce takes effect immediately after the court issues the ruling.