Abu Dhabi sets out ‘no fault’ divorce provision for expats

Irina Baranova

Abu Dhabi has set out further reform to its civil and family law, paving the way for ‘no fault’ divorce proceedings and other provisions for expat residents.

The legal changes, approved in November and detailed in full on Sunday, apply to civil marriages, that is for non-Muslims, and Muslims from countries that do not follow Sharia.

From the first divorce hearing, a couple intending to divorce may do so “without the need to prove prejudice or justify the reasons for separation”.

Joint custody of children is systematically granted on an equal basis to the father and mother

Abu Dhabi Judicial Department

Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said the new provisions will ensure divorces can proceed in a “swift manner in order to reduce quarrels and discord between the spouses, especially if the couple has children”.

When deciding alimony payments, the length of time a couple was married is taken into account for the first time.

There is further provision for the court to order one spouse to pay the other a one-off lump sum, in addition to regular payments.

This could be, for example, in recognition that the wife had quit, or may have to quit, her to job to look after children and lost out financially as a result.

There is no requirement to attend counselling or mediation, which was the case in the past and continues to be in some of the emirates.

Recently introduced measures include proceedings conducted in English where necessary. Claim forms and paperwork are filed in both English and Arabic.

Other changes are equally significant.

Officials said custody of children is, from the outset, “systematically granted on an equal basis to the father and mother, and details the method of alternating and dispatching joint custody between the parents, either weekly, fortnightly or monthly”.

There is a clear legal avenue for a spouse seeking to oppose access to a child “it if there are grounds for doing so, or to request the relinquishment of custody or the exclusion of the partner from joint custody, whether it is legal or real custody or both”.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and chairman of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD) has issued the decision to implement the new law, a news release on Sunday said.

Spousal support payments explained

For the first time, women will be compensated for leaving their jobs to care for their children.

Called “clean-break spousal support”, a judge will order either spouse to pay a lump sum.

The total will be determined by a number of factors, including whether either party played a pivotal role in the breakdown of the marriage.

It also takes into account financial sacrifices made by either person, such as leaving a job to care for children. This will be amplified if the person making the sacrifice had a high-paying career and had invested a lot of time in their education.

Alimony will also be calculated based on the husband’s current income and general finances as well as the number of years the couple have been married.

The more years of marriage, the bigger the sum.

Previously, ex-wives would receive a percentage of their former husband’s pay as determined by a judge without taking into account the length of the marriage or any assets owned.

Youssef Saeed Al Abri, undersecretary of the judicial department, said the changes cover 52 articles of law and relate to divorce, joint custody of children, financial matters arising from divorce, proof of parentage, adoption and other issues.

Altogether the changes represent an “advanced concept of civil family law for foreigners in line with international best practices”.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed approved the new divorce provisions for Abu Dhabi's courts. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

The law will allow ex-wives to receive a lump sum of no less than 25 per cent of the husband’s pay multiplied by the number of years of marriage.

The changes also allow expatriate lawyers to represent cases at the non-Muslim family court in the capital in what would be another turning point for the legal system. Previously only UAE citizens were permitted to act as counsel in the courts.

Sharia will only affect marriages involving Emiratis and Muslim citizens of countries that apply the law, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Bahrain.

The new family law for non-Muslims was introduced in November last year as part of a number of sweeping legal reforms.

The move is designed to bring Abu Dhabi in step with international practices and enhance its position as a destination for global talent.

Changes to inheritance laws for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi also mean that, should a person die without a will, half of their estate will automatically go to their spouse, with the other half going to their children.

Diana Hamade, from law firm Attorneys at Law, said: “The new Abu Dhabi law is a civil law – not based on any religion or sect or even a philosophy. It’s based on rules that are applied worldwide to families in terms of marriage, divorce, separation, finances.”

Updated: February 6th 2022, 4:49 PM


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