On February 6, 2022, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the head of the Judicial Department in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, ratified the executive regulation of Law No. 14 of 2021 concerning the Personal Status for Non-Muslim Foreigners in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. According to the government portal of the United Arab Emirates, Law No. 14, 2021 and its executive regulation provide a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for settling family law disputes for non-Muslim foreigners residing in Abu Dhabi.
Contents of Law No. 14 of 2021
Law No. 14 of 2021 puts in place a secular, substantive personal-status legal regime exclusively applicable to non-Muslim foreigners and creates a dedicated judicial institution to administer it. It consists of 20 provisions that regulate civil marriage and divorce, child custody, alimony payments, and inheritance matters. The law does not apply Islamic law on matters of family disputes related to non-Muslim foreigners. Additionally, it establishes a special family-law court for non-Muslim foreigners.
Marriage and Divorce
The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years old for both males and females. (Law No. 14 of 2021, art. 4(1).) It requires that an authentication judge officiate at a civil marriage. (Art. 5(2).) Both the man and the woman who wish to marry must disclose before the judge any previous marital relationships. (Art. 5(5).)
The law applies the principle of unilateral “no-fault divorce,” according to which either spouse can express before the court the desire to separate from the other spouse without providing any justification. (Art. 6.)
Child Custody and Alimony Payments
The law regulates child custody between the parents after divorce. It stipulates that both the husband and the wife enjoy joint custody of their children. (Art. 8(1).) The special family court adjudicating family disputes for non-Muslims has jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes related to child custody. (Art. 8(3).)
Following the pronouncement of a divorce, the wife has the right to petition the court to order alimony payments. (Art. 8.)
Special Family Court
For the first time, a special family court has been established in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in accordance with the new law with the purpose of adjudicating disputes between non-Muslim foreigners who conclude civil marriages. (Art. 17(1).) The court consists of one judge, who may be a non-Muslim. (Art. 17(2).) The court conducts its proceedings in Arabic and English. (Art. 17(3).)
Law No. 14 of 2021 does not apply rules of Islamic law concerning the distribution of inheritance shares between a man and a woman. Rather, it states that foreign non-Muslim men and women are to receive equal shares of inheritance. (Art. 16(2).)