On February 1, 2023, family courts in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began implementing Federal Decree Law No. 41 of 2022 regulating matters of family law for non-Muslims residing in the United Arab Emirates.
Contents of Law No. 41 of 2022
Law No. 41 of 2022 consists of 18 provisions that institute a substantive secular personal-status legal regime exclusively applicable to non-Muslim foreigners, in contrast to Muslims in the Emirates, whose personal-status matters are governed by Islamic Law. The law regulates civil marriage and divorce, child custody, alimony payments, and inheritance matters.
Marriage and Divorce
The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 21 years for both males and females. (Federal Law No. 41 of 2022, art. 5(1).) It requires that an authentication judge officiate at a civil marriage. (Arts. 5(3) & 6(1).) Both the man and the woman who wish to marry must disclose before the judge any previous marital relationships. (Art. 6(3).)
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. 7.)
Child Custody and Alimony Payments
The law regulates child custody after divorce, stipulating that both the husband and the wife enjoy joint custody of their children. (Art. 10(1).) The family court adjudicating family disputes for non-Muslims has jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes related to child custody. (Art. 10(3).)
Following the pronouncement of a divorce, the wife has the right to petition the court to order alimony payments. (Art. 9.)
The paternity of the child is established by marriage or by the acknowledgment of the father and mother. (Art. 14(1).) The court has the authority to order a DNA test to establish the paternity of a child. (Art. 14( 2).)
In contrast with Islamic law rules regarding inheritance, Law No. 41 of 2022 states that foreign non-Muslim men and women are to receive equal shares of inheritance. (Art. 11(2).)
In accordance with Law No. 41 of 2022, Dubai courts have announced the launch of the Civil Marriage for Non-Muslims service to regulate family matters for non-Muslim foreigners residing in the Emirate of Dubai. The Dubai courts have required that the age of both the foreign man and woman who are interested in marrying in a civil marriage ceremony be 21.
Additionally, on February 9, 2023, the UAE Judicial Inspection Department, in cooperation with the Judicial Training Institute at the Ministry of Justice, organized a specialized workshop for judges on the provisions of this law. The workshop discussed a variety of issues regulated by the law, including the scope of the law’s application, divorce provisions and procedures, alimony, the custody of children after a divorce, and the distribution of inheritance.
George Sadek, Law Library of Congress
March 14, 2023
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