Legal experts explain changes in UAE law on marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance
Dubai: The new Federal Personal Status Law (Federal Law No. 41 of 2022), which takes effect on February 1 to govern key family matters such as marriage, child custody, divorce and inheritance, seeks to promote equality between men and women, address the issue of joint custody, and expedite divorce procedures for non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE, top legal experts have explained.
“With the new amendments, the UAE Government hopes to attract talent from around the world and enhance the UAE’s status as the best place to work and live in the Middle East. This new law also regulates the procedures for inheritance, wills and proof of paternity tests for non-Muslim residents,” Nita Maru, Managing Partner of TWS Legal Consultants DMCC, told Gulf News.
Mohamed M.A. Hameed, Senior Legal Consultant from Al Midfa & Associates, said, “The UAE Government has made it more friendly for non-Muslim expatriates from all over the world and non-Muslim locals to meet their expectations about their personal life and not be ruled by laws which are different from their beliefs and culture, without affecting UAE culture and beliefs, which will be applied on local Muslims and expatriate Muslims.”
So what exactly are the changes in the new law?
According to Maru, “The new reforms are based on the principles of justice, fairness and gender equality. It aims to protect the rights of non-Muslim residents in the UAE. The new legislation is in line with the UAE Government’s efforts to align itself with international legal practices and enhance its legislative ecosystem to promote tolerance, family stability, demographic diversity and boost economic growth.”
The two legal experts have highlighted the following changes in the new law
With the new amendments, the UAE Government hopes to attract talent from around the world and enhance the UAE’s status as the best place to work and live in the Middle East. This new law also regulates the procedures for inheritance, wills and proof of paternity tests for non-Muslim residents.
Equality in rights for men and women
“Article 4 emphasises the equality in rights and obligations for men and women in relation to witness testimony, estate distribution and the right to divorce,” said Maru. “Women will now have the opportunity to file for divorce, give witness testimony and there will be equality when it comes to child arrangements.”
Civil marriage: Consent from wife’s father no longer mandatory; no witnesses needed
Maru explained that Article 5 stipulates the conditions for a civil marriage, which will be available in the UAE. “Both parties must be at least 21 years of age and not be related to each other. It also states that both parties must declare their consent to the marriage and sign a declaration form in front of a judge. The mandatory requirement to obtain consent from the wife’s father or guardian has also been removed.”
The UAE Government has made it more friendly for non-Muslim expatriates from all over the world and non-Muslim locals to meet their expectations about their personal life and not be ruled by laws which are different from their beliefs and culture, without affecting UAE culture and beliefs which will be applied on local Muslims and expatriate Muslims.
Hameed further said, “The marriage must be registered in the court. There is no need for witnesses. The bride and the groom can agree within the marriage contract on the conditions that will govern their marriage, divorce and mutual custody of their children. The couple should sign a disclosure form about previous and current marriages.”
Introduction of no-fault divorce
Articles 6, 7, and 8 stipulate the conditions for joint or unilateral divorce, said Maru. “If one party expresses their desire to end the marriage, they may do so without providing a reason for the divorce. This eliminates the need for either party to assign blame. This also prevents the other party from delaying the divorce procedure and curtailing the freedoms of the person initiating the divorce.
“Divorce can be sought by application to the court from any of the spouses without evidencing the grounds for the divorce. The court will grant the divorce by a judgement after notifying the other spouse,” added Hameed.
Mediation session not mandatory
The need to attend a mandatory mediation session has also been removed, and a divorce can be granted at the first hearing with the judge, said Maru.
“Under this new law, one has the choice and right to divorce their spouse without showing harm or fault. There is no need to provide a justification or a reason, as was previously required. It is hoped that this will allow the divorce to proceed peacefully, amicably and swiftly under the new law,” she added.
According to Maru, Article 9 entitles the wife to apply for alimony from her husband using the court prescribed form. If the request for financial provisions put forward by the wife is rejected by the husband, the court will have discretionary powers to take into consideration various factors such as:
I) Duration of the marriage
II) Wife’s age
III) Financial situation of each party
IV) Extent of the husband’s contribution to the divorce
V) Financial damage caused to either party as a result of the divorce
VI) Extent of financial provisions made by the husband for the wife and children
VII) Extent of the care given to the children by the wife
“This is in line with other jurisdictions which take into account various factors when considering the amount of maintenance to award,” she noted.
Joint custody of children
Article 10 introduces the concept of shared parental responsibility, and in case there is a dispute regarding parental rights, either parent may approach the court and make an application to exclude the other in order to obtain sole custody. “The court will review the information and decide who is awarded custody based on what is in the best interests of the children and their well-being and safety,” said Maru.
Hameed said the new law allows mutual custody between the father and the mother until the child reaches the age of 18 at which time the child will be given the right to choose to continue with either the father or the mother. During the mutual custody, the court, by application, from one of the parents, can grant the sole custody to the applicant, if justifiable reason is proven to the court that the other parent is not eligible.”
Maru said, under Article 11, a non-Muslim expatriate can have a will drafted to leave his/her assets to a beneficiary of their choice, subject to implementing regulations. “In the absence of a will, the assets will now be split between the surviving spouse and children (whether male or female). Further default distributions will apply in the absence of a spouse or children.
“Gender-based inequality has been nullified, which is a massive step forward in welcoming equality between males and females.
“The law applies only to non-Muslim expatriates residing in the UAE unless one opts to apply their home country’s law or other legislation regulating family or personal status. The reforms will certainly be a reassuring development for expatriates, providing the security they need with regards to their personal affairs in the UAE. Having a will in place will also allow expatriates to plan their inheritance and nominate guardians according to their specific wishes with confidence,” she added.
Hameed noted that, “Inheritance matters are governed by the will, which will be registered in the register designated for the purpose by the court. Or by the rules set in the law if the person passes away intestate."
To learn more about what these significant changes entail, read our feature in Gulf News below. Indeed, the reforms are a reassuring development for expatriates providing them with the security they need with regards to their personal matters in the UAE.
Feel free to contact us if you wish to know more about the implications of the new law on your estate and family matters in the UAE.
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