UAE Divorce & Family Law

If you want to get a divorce then the law that applies will depend on whether you are a Muslim resident of the UAE. Courts in the UAE apply Sharia law for Muslims but can apply your country’s ‘home’ law if you’re a non-Muslim couple. So how exactly does divorce apply in relation to the UAE? How do child custody and contact arrangements work after divorce? And how will your financial assets be split? Here we discuss those issues and more.

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Divorce laws for Muslim couples in the UAE

If you and your spouse are Muslims and UAE residents, then it is likely that Sharia law will be applied to your divorce. This is also likely to be the case if the husband is a Muslim and the woman a non-Muslim.

Under Sharia law, a husband can pronounce ‘talaq’ on his wife (state ‘talaq’ on three occasions in front of a witness) and then formalise this divorce in court.

A wife can also make an application to court to divorce. Here, grounds for divorce may have to be proved and these grounds can include:

  • adultery
  • lack of maintenance/support from husband
  • deception
  • desertion
  • imprisonment of husband for more than three years.

A wife can also seek a ‘khula’ divorce. Here, she can give up her rights to her financial payments in return for a divorce.

Divorce laws for non-Muslim couples in the UAE

If you’re not a Muslim, you can apply to have the law of your home country applied when you file for divorce in the UAE.

However, in practice it can be difficult to reconcile the laws of your home country with Sharia law.

For example, if you and your spouse are of different nationality then the court may have to apply local Sharia principles to your case.

Couples can often find that Sharia laws prevail in UAE courts, and this can mean that outcomes regarding child custody, child support, spousal maintenance and the division of your assets will be different to those which you might expect in your ‘home’ country.

Child custody and guardianship on divorce in the UAE

If you and the other parent can agree to custody and contact arrangements for your child, then you can draft a written agreement which can be endorsed by the court as a legally binding contract. If you can’t agree, then a court will make an order.

In the UAE, the child’s mother is the ‘custodian’ and the father the ‘guardian’. Guardianship requires the father to provide for your child financially, and so providing shelter, food, medical care and education.

Custody relates to the day-to-day care of your child. A court in the UAE will normally awarded to the mother without interfering with a father’s rights to guardianship.

In the UAE, custody ends at the age of 11 for boys and 13 for girls and a father can claim custody after this time. Alternatively, a mother can claim the extension of the custody period until their son finishes his education or their daughter gets married. In this case, the mother must prove that she has brought up the child well, for example through good school reports or medical history.

In the UAE, a custodian must be rational, mature, honest and able to bring up a child. They must also be free of infectious disease and not sentenced for a crime of honour.

Mothers with custody should share the child’s religion, and not remarry unless a court believes it is in your child’s best interests.

Fathers with custody should share the same religion as the child and have a suitable woman living in the home to care for the child (for example, a female relative).

The UAE has not signed the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. This means that there is no reciprocal agreement in place with other nations in the event that a child is taken out of the UAE without a parent’s consent.

This can make child abduction cases to and from the UAE difficult to resolve. You may need to speak to a specialist lawyer in the country where your child has been taken.

Financial settlements following divorce in the UAE

When you divorce in the UAE under Sharia law, you will retain any property or assets that are in your name. The court has very little discretion to make property orders, and so will often make no order regarding the division of your assets.

The wife will also receive the remainder of her dowry if the marriage contract stated she would receive some dowry ‘later’.

The husband is also obliged to provide a home for his wife and children, if she has custody and they do not have a home already. This will typically be the marital home to avoid disruption to your children.

As the child’s guardian, the father is 100% responsible for child maintenance. This should be sufficient to cover:

  • the rent/mortgage payments for the home in which the children live
  • school fees
  • payments for a maid/servant
  • clothes, food etc.

This maintenance should continue until a daughter marries, and until a boy is at an age when he should be able to support himself financially.

Spousal maintenance can be limited in the UAE. Financial support for a wife is often limited to ‘iddah’ which is the three-month period during which the wife cannot remarry. A wife may receive financial compensation for this period, and only if she has not given up her right to this by initiating the divorce.

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