The new legislation will apply to non-Muslims and come into effect from February 1, 2023…

From February 1, reforms will be made to an array of family laws for non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE. These were first announced back in December 2022.

The Federal Personal Status Law will come into effect on February 1, 2023 and will see Abu Dhabi’s civil family court system introduced across the rest of the emirates. The reforms to family law pertain to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, and look to further modernise the UAE legal system.

On marriage

The new law will “regulate the marriage conditions and the procedures of contracting and documenting the marriage before the competent courts,” according to state news agency, wam. This will allow non-Muslim couples to marry in a non-Sharia legal process.

The conditions will be that those wishing to marry should be at least 21 years old, and parties will be required to fill out a declaration form in front of a judge.

Since February 2022, this has been applicable in Abu Dhabi, where non-Muslim couples have been able to tie the knot in the civil court, in a similar way to a registry office wedding in the UK or Europe. From February 2023, it will be available UAE-wide.

On divorce

The UAE government statement specifies that as per the new decree, “the procedures of divorce that can be initiated jointly or unilaterally. It organises the procedures for settling the financial claims after divorce, and the arrangement of joint custody for the children.”

According to The National, either spouse will now be able to ask to the court to end the marriage, without proving a party as at fault, or justify the need to end the marriage. Divorces may be granted after one hearing, and it won’t be required to go through family guidance counselling, nor meditation sessions that were previously required.

If a divorcing couple has children, joint and equal custody of the children will automatically be granted until the children are 18 years old. Where there are custody disputes, the court can take further action and involvement, with consideration always given to the child or children’s best interests. If witness testimony is required, a woman’s testimony to be equal of that of a man.

Financial alimony will also be based on several factors, with ruling courts taking into account the length of the marriage, wife’s age and the financial status of both the husband and wife.

On inheritance

The new law will allow non-Muslims to register wills at the same time as their marriage certificate, which will allow them to give their property to whoever they wish.

If there is no will in place, 50 per cent of a person’s estate will go to their spouse, while the other 50 per cent will be distributed equally between any children. If the couple do not have children, the 50 per cent will go either to any surviving parents, or siblings.

Further updates to the UAE law

This federal decree is the latest in a string of changes to the UAE law that look to modernise the country’s legal system. In October 2022, law No10 of 2022 saw children born outside of marriage or a relationship become eligible to obtain a birth certificate.

In January 2022, reforms announced in November 2021 came into effect, effectively decriminalising relationships and pregnancies outside of marriage, and permitting unmarried couples to live together.