Non-Muslim divorces in UAE explained: Why Abu Dhabi's civil court is a game-changer

The Civil Court in the Capital is competent to hear disputes between couples



by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Fri 18 Nov 2022, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sat 19 Nov 2022, 10:04 AM

In a first win of its kind for a UAE court, a UK judge earlier this year ruled that the divorce of an English couple residing in Abu Dhabi, who had separately filed for divorce in two courts (Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court and the English High Courts), can be carried out in Abu Dhabi.

As a lawyer who regularly provides expert opinion in foreign courts, Diana Hamade, Founder of Diana Hamade Attorneys at Law, represented one of the spouses in the case and successfully argued before the UK judge to allow the proceedings to be handled in Abu Dhabi after proving the competency of the Abu Dhabi Civil Court in handling non-Muslim family matters, including divorce.

Here, Hamade tells Khaleej Times what expat couples can expect when filing for divorce in Abu Dhabi’s Civil Court.

In the case of the English couple residing in Abu Dhabi seeking divorce, you successfully argued, as one of the parties’ respective legal representatives, for the competency of the Abu Dhabi Civil Court in handling the divorce proceedings here as opposed to the UK. What is the significance of this win?

The divorce petition of a married English couple, residing in Abu Dhabi, was filed in two courts, the wife filed in England while the husband filed in the Abu Dhabi Civil Courts. Upon reviewing the application, the judge in the English High Courts ruled to allow the proceedings to be completed in Abu Dhabi’s Civil Court. This is due to the fact that the parties and their children’s habitual residence is in Abu Dhabi, and that Abu Dhabi is equipped with a family civil court that is not based on Sharia Law, which provides the wife with the protection which would be provided under English Law.

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I was able to explain the to the UK court that our legal system values and respects the need to ensure anonymity when dealing with family cases, and that judgements are published in the Official Gazette with only the initials of the parties listed in the proceedings. I was also able to make the case for our legal system being quick and highly adaptive, having become a globally recognised jurisdiction consisting of a hybrid system of both civil and common law cases.

Though our legal system is not as old as the UK’s, it has been able to achieve much and grow exponentially, providing people around the world with the legal solutions they needed. The Abu Dhabi Civil Court is an integral part of this progress and has proved that it is able to follow the exceptional standards the UAE has adopted for its judicial system.

Why would you advise non-Muslim couples planning to divorce to apply to the Abu Dhabi Civil Court as opposed to law institutions in their own country?

The Abu Dhabi Civil Court encourages an amicable divorce between parties through a no-fault divorce. Either the wife or the husband may request a no-fault divorce. The approach taken is that a divorce is granted through an application filed without requirement of evidence for reasons behind the marriage breakdown. Therefore, neither party blames the other for the breakdown of the marriage and the process of divorce is speedier and less stressful for both parties. An amicable financial settlement agreement is favoured, unless disputed, and joint custody is automatically awarded unless disputed or custody is waived by one of the parents.

Can couples who have been married in a different country still apply for divorce at the Abu Dhabi Civil Court? And what if they reside in a different Emirate in the UAE?

An expat couple planning to divorce will have to have proven links to Abu Dhabi. An applicant must reside in Abu Dhabi, or the marriage certificate must have been issued there.

What's the process like, what can people expect?

Any spouse may petition for divorce without having to prove any damages. A no-fault divorce application is filled in by the applicant which can be found on the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department website, and is submitted on the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department portal, along with a copy of the marriage certificate and ID copy. A court judgement declaring divorce will be finalised after the other party has been notified. Without the requirement to send the case to the family counselling department, divorce will occur in the first session after the filing of the lawsuit with the court. A judgement issued by the Court shall deem the divorce effective upon the notification of the other party.

Does the AD Civil Court resemble divorce proceedings practiced in any particular western nation (UK for example?)

Not necessarily in a particular jurisdiction, however it does follow a matrimonial regime/ division of assets following divorce which is drafted by the Abu Dhabi Civil Courts for its own jurisdiction.

You have witnessed many transformations within the country’s legal system. Can you give us an idea of some of the notable elements that have progressed within the UAE legal system?

The government has always been committed to providing everyone with a legal system that accommodates their individual requirements and circumstances. The judiciary's alignment with this vision has been astonishing.

Some of the many other recent introductions to the UAE’s judicial system include the introduction Abu Dhabi’s Family Civil Court for non-UAE citizens and, of course, the recent digitisation of legal proceedings and procedures due to Covid-19 that have further developed and become a primary functional part of our legal system.

According to the Abu Dhabi Civil Marriage and Divorce Law No 14 of 2021, the divorce application is available online to expats from nations that do not apply Sharia Law. The divorce fee is Dh5,000 and lawyer services are not required. Final divorce decree is expected to be granted in 30 days.

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