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Article United Arab Emirates: Decree-Law Amends Current Family Law

(Dec. 22, 2020) On August 28, 2020, the president of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, signed Decree-Law No. 5 of 2020, which amends a number of provisions of the country’s family law, Law No. 28 of 2005. Those provisions regulate issues of (1) financial support provided by the husband to the wife, (2) the work of the wife outside the house, (3) divorce by proxy, (4) providing arbitration between the husband and wife, and (5) financial compensation paid by a spouse to the other spouse.

Law No. 28 of 2005 applies the principles of Islamic jurisprudence in the interpretation and explanation of its provisions. (Law No. 28 of 2005, art. 2(1).) If the basis for a provision of this law cannot be identified in any legislative text, the interpretation of the law must be based first on the opinions of the Maliki school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, followed by the opinions of the Hanbali, the Shafa’i, and the Hanafi schools, respectively. (Art. 2(3).)

Husband’s Financial Support

Decree-Law No. 5 of 2020 identifies the following conditions under which the wife would lose her right to her husband’s financial support:

  1. If the wife refused to have sexual intercourse with her husband without any valid justification
  2. If the wife deserted the house without any valid reason
  3. If the wife prevented the husband from entering the house
  4. If the court sentenced the wife to prison for committing a crime (Art. 71, as amended.)

The Wife’s Work Outside the House

The new decree-law grants the wife the right to work outside the house. It stipulates that the wife’s work outside the house is not considered a violation of her marital duties toward her husband. (Art. 72, as amended.)

Divorce by Proxy

The new decree-law allows divorce by proxy before the family court for both the husband and the wife. The law also requires two witnesses to testify before the family court to verify that the husband has divorced his wife, which can be done by the husband making a verbal or written pronouncement that he is divorcing his wife. If two witnesses were not present at the husband’s pronouncement, the husband must confirm before the court that he has divorced his wife. Finally, the law provides that the divorce is valid from the day the husband makes the divorce pronouncement and not of the date of the court decision verifying the divorce. (Art. 100, as amended.) Under Islamic law, only the husband is permitted to make a divorce pronouncement unless the marriage contract contains a condition granting such a right to the wife. The date of the divorce pronouncement is important because it serves as the beginning of the ‘Iddah period—the generally three-month waiting period before the wife is allowed to marry again.


The law provides that two arbitrators must attempt to resolve disputes among married couples before the family court decides to separate them. (Art. 120(1), as amended.)

Financial Compensation

The two arbitrators have the power to order either or both of the spouses to pay financial compensation because of damage that they have caused during their marriage. If the two arbitrators decide that one of the spouses is at fault, they will order this spouse to pay financial compensation to the other spouse. If they declare the husband to be at fault, the husband must pay the wife financial compensation in addition to alimony and child support after the divorce takes place. (Art. 120(2) & (3), as amended.)

If the two arbitrators decide that both spouses are equally at fault, they will recommend a separation without any compensation or compensation commensurate with the proportion of the offense. (Art. 120(4), as amended.) Finally, if the two arbitrators decide that neither spouse is at fault and neither of them has caused harm to the other during their marriage, the arbitrators have the discretion to decide what is most appropriate for the family and the children and allow them to separate without compensation or reject their request to separate. (Art. 120(5), as amended.)

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