His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, in his capacity as ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, issued a law to regulate personal status for non-Muslims in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Law no 14 of 2021 On Personal Status for Non-Muslim Foreigners in Emirates of Abu Dhabi (the “Law”). The move will strengthen the Emirate's status as one of the most desirable places for talents , including their families. This subsequently provides greater legal certainty to the large expatriate population that reside in the Emirate, which is, in fact, the main objective of issuing the Law.
The Law comprises 20 articles, which are divided into five chapters relating to civil marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.
The first chapter of the Law modifies the marriage procedure for non-nationals by introducing in the concept of marriage being held on the will of husband and wife.
The second chapter outlines the legislation governing non-Muslim divorce procedures, including the rights of divorced partners and the financial rights of a divorced wife. The monetary rights of a wife after separation would be left to the judge's discretion, based on factors such as "the number of years of marriage, the wife's age, and each spouse's economic situation."
The third chapter is about child custody following a divorce. It introduces the concept of joint custody, in which the mother and father share custody of a child equally. "To ensure the family's cohesion after divorce and to preserve the psychological health of the children," the law states.
The fourth chapter provides laws for inheritance, non-Muslim will registration, and a foreigner's right to write a will and transfer their possessions on to whomever they wish.
The law's fifth chapter deals with non-Muslim foreigners' proof of paternity, "providing that the proof of paternity of the newborn child is based on marriage or acknowledgement of paternity."
In Abu Dhabi, non-Muslim couples can now marry "based on the will of both the husband and wife," meaning the wife's guardian's consent is no longer required.
Spouses no longer need to prove one party was at fault to apply for divorce. Previously, the harm had to be proven, or the divorce would not be granted.
Either spouse may now ask the court to end the marriage without placing blame.
Divorce can now be granted at the first hearing without the need to go to the family guidance department.
Divorcing couples will also no longer be required to go through mandatory mediation sessions.
A "post-divorce request form" will be used to submit alimony and any following demands. In the event of a disagreement over financial requests, numerous variables will be considered, including the length of the marriage, the age of the wife, and each spouse's financial situation.
Alimony can be renegotiated on an annual basis and is automatically forfeited when the wife remarries.
Custody of any children will be a joint and equal right between parents in order to "protect the child's psychological health and minimize the impacts of the divorce on the child."
In the event of a dispute over custody, the court may be asked to intervene and make a decision. The child's best interests will always be the primary consideration.
Previously, a mother was only allowed to have custody of her son until he was 11 years old, and her daughter until she was 13 years old. Once the child reaches specified ages, the father may seek custody.
The law ensures the right of a foreigner to draw up a will giving their property to whoever they wish.
In the absence of a will, the surviving spouse will receive half of the estate. The remaining half will be divided evenly among the deceased's children.
Previously, a son would obtain a larger share of the inheritance.
If the deceased seem to have no children, the inheritance would be divided evenly between one living parent and the deceased's siblings.
Wills for non-Muslims should be registered during the signing of their marriage certificate.
The new amendments follow the announcement of many changes to UAE laws as part of the Projects of the 50, a series of bold initiatives aimed at boosting economic growth and setting the country on a progressive path for the next 50 years.