UAE: New law for non-Muslims offers 'modern framework' to settle family disputes, says expert

Among other changes, the legislative overhaul introduces international standards on the rights of divorced partners

By Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Fri 7 Jan 2022, 8:57 AM

A legal expert has praised Abu Dhabi's new personal status law for non-Muslim expats for offering a 'modern framework' to settle family disputes.

In a significant step in the legislative map of Family Law in the UAE and the Gulf region, the Judicial Department of Abu Dhabi passed Law No. 14 of 2021 concerning personal status for non-Muslim foreigners last November as the first civil law concerning non-Muslim family matters.

Diana Hamade, Founder and Managing Partner at Diana Hamade Attorneys at Law, said "A legislative solution to be considered is the addition of the sophisticated legislative solutions that provide a modern judicial framework for foreigners in Abu Dhabi to resolve family disputes, to the existing Federal Personal status law as an addendum which deals with family matters of non-Muslims, especially where the current law provisions on marriage and divorce laws are guided through Islamic Sharia law."

"The addition of such a civil law can replace the process of applying a foreign law to non-Muslim expats cases, which are no doubt problematic for judges, counsels, and parties and not to mention expensive," said Hamade.


The new personal status law for non-Muslims foreigners, Hamade added, introduces international standards on the rights of divorced partners. This includes the monetary rights of a wife after separation being left to the discretion of a judge based on criteria such as the number of years of marriage, the age of the wife, the economic standing of each of the spouses.

The Family Guidance department is removed as a first step in the process, and the divorce can be granted at the first hearing. It also introduces the concept of joint custody, equality between men and women in giving evidence, and inheritance.

Courts dedicated to non-Muslim family matters are opened and functioning at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, in Arabic and English.

Reforms over the years

Although major reforms have been made to the UAE Federal Personal Status Law No. 28 of 2005 over the years, Hamade said further progress can be made to match the Civil Law of Abu Dhabi in adapting to the changing trends of society.

"The UAE legislature needs to address the legal provisions in relation to custody and visitation to meet the requirements of modern society where women now are mostly in full-time employment and the roles of custody and guardianship being separated is not serving the best interest of children nor parents."

She added that provisions on alimony would also need to be addressed to guarantee the stability sought by families and children.

"The fact that the UAE courts will be applying foreign laws, of foreign marriages, and foreign courts render children subject to the UAE law as their domicile, urges the UAE legislature to make the necessary amendments to the Federal Law No. 28/2005 to conform with the universally applied laws in these regards," noted Hamade.

The UAE Federal Personal Status Law saw major amendments pursuant to Federal Decree-Law No. 8/2019, Federal Decree-Law No. 5/2020 and Federal Decree Law No. 29/2020. Some of the key highlights included Article 71, which gave the right to a wife to leave her marital home without permission, and Article 72, reducing the instances where the right of a wife to monthly alimony is denied.

Hamade then noted that the most notable amendment was included in Federal Decree No. 33 of 2020 where Article 13 repealed Article 1 of Federal Law No. 28/2005 to determine that expats will have the law of the state where the marriage was contracted as the law applicable to the personal and financial affects resulting from the contract of marriage upon divorce or separation.

Article 1 of the Personal Status law No. 28 of 2005 provides that its provisions shall apply to UAE Nationals unless they are non-Muslims, and to expats who do not request the application of their law of marriage.

Other amendments, namely to Articles 118 and 120 of Federal Law No. 28/2005 on divorce for harm and the role of referees, remain complicated. "The repudiation, Talaq; an exclusive right of a Muslim man left unamended continues to disrupt the balance in a marriage and due process of court proceedings," noted Hamade.

Further amendments, she said, are needed to set off the UAE vision on women empowerment in regulations.


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