What you need to know about divorce in the UAE
Many expats remain unaware of how divorce proceedings work in the UAE
For many people, a divorce is the last resort when facing a failed - or even abusive - marriage. But many expats remain unaware of how divorce proceedings work in the UAE, with questions ranging from what courts have jurisdiction, to what constitutes appropriate grounds for divorce and perhaps most importantly, how child custody is determined.
Ashish Mehta, founder and managing partner of the Dubai-based Ashish Mehta & Associates, said that expats in the UAE have a choice when it comes to what laws and regulations will govern their divorce.
"Expats who were married outside and are currently residents of the UAE have a choice, in which they can choose the jurisdiction of the UAE, or go to their home country," he explained. "Should they choose jurisdiction here, they have two choices. If they are non-Muslim, they can have divorces filed and completed under their own religious personal laws, or they may choose the UAE's civil procedures."
In the case of Muslim expats, Mehta added, Sharia law is applicable. Non-Muslims, however, can apply their own religious laws, provided they provide the court with a notarised, legalised version of their country's laws, translated in the UAE by an approved translator and approved by the Ministry of Justice.
Contrary to popular belief, Mehta noted that many expats prefer to go through the UAE's court system to process their divorce, as it is often faster and in the long run, economical than returning to their home countries.
"I've seen a lot of people who want to do it in the UAE. It's faster to get done here," he said. "Otherwise, they might have to travel back home, as they might have to appear (in court). For example, it would take much longer in India than in takes in the UAE. People may not wish to incur the travel costs or take leaves from their employment."
In some cases - particularly in Dubai - Mehta noted that the court could finish the proceedings in mutually agreed divorces in as little as a few weeks.
"It can be a matter of one week. After that, another one to two weeks to get your judgment," he said. "Most countries take far too long compared to the UAE."
What constitutes grounds for divorce? According to Mehta, a variety of reasons, ranging from physical abuse and mental torture to desertion and adultery, all constitute valid reasons for divorce.
In some cases - such as adultery - also constitute grounds for criminal proceedings in the UAE. "Adultery is grounds for divorce in every faith, every religion's laws. Adultery is a very common reason, so if it happens, (one) can ask for divorce based on that," he noted. "But if proven, it is a serious offence under the UAE Penal Code."
The Burden of Proof
In cases of contested divorce - in which one party doesn't agree to the divorce - grounds must be proven. "If a man wants a divorce from his wife, and she doesn't, he can check the law he's chosen, and under that law see what are the requirements and grounds to seek divorce," Mehta noted.
Claims of physical abuse, for example, must be backed up medical reports or witnesses. "For instance, if the wife is physically abusive, he (needs to) prove that she beats him and is violent. His claim is not good enough alone - he has to prove that like with a medical report obtained from a medical professional," he said. "If he doesn't have these, he can provide two male witnesses who know him, and have seen the wife beating him on several occasions... if the wife had made a similar claim, she must also have a medical report and two male witnesses."
"If he has one male witness and one female witness, that female is considered half a witness. He must then bring two female witnesses," he added. "Having said that, I would make a qualification here. Whether it's two male witnesses, or one male and one female witness, two male witnesses is normal practice. It's up to the digression of the judge whether he wants to consider the female (as a full witness)."
What happens to the children?
In some cases, one of the parties in a divorce may threaten to leave the UAE with their children. Mehta noted that the concerned parties have legal steps they can take to prevent that from happening. "You have to obtain a travel ban from the court for the child," he said. "As a parent, you can seek that order from the court. They provide that."
When it comes to custody battles over children, Mehta noted that UAE judges first leave it to the parents to attempt to come to an agreement. "If they fail, that's when the judge steps in. He would grant custody to one parents and visitation rights to another. A judge will never deny visitation rights, unless there are severe reasons," he explained. "If the child is grown-up, his or her wishes can be taken into account and they can choose which parent gets custody."
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