We have discussed personal status laws applicable to the entire UAE in the previous articles.
We now shift our focus to the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, which introduced a new law, called the Abu Dhabi Law No. 14 of 2021 (Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law) and executive regulations under it. This law applies to non-Muslim foreigners and non-Muslim locals in Abu Dhabi and marks a distinct change in approach towards family law matters in the Emirates of Abu Dhabi.
It is noteworthy to mention that the new federal personal law for non-Muslims, Federal Decree-Law No. 41 of 2022, has been enacted in furtherance of this law only, and there are striking similarities between these two pieces of legislation. The following text discusses the Abu Dhabi law and some of its provisions.
What is the New Law?
Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law applies only in Abu Dhabi. While the key changes related to no-fault divorce, joint custody and financial rights of the wife will be discussed in detail later, some other notable changes brought about by this new law are as follows:
1) It has recognized the concept of civil marriage and gives equal rights to both men and women, irrespective of gender, which is similar to the western concept and is compliant with the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.
2) The non-Muslim expatriate is entitled to nominate his inheritance according to his wishes, regardless of the Islamic principles which restrict issuing the will to one of his heirs or giving the heir more than one-third of the assets.
3) It also does not prescribe any difference in using the witness statements of males and females. This is unlike the law applicable to Muslims in the UAE under which two females and one male are required if any witness testimony is presented before any family court.
Equal rights are also given regardless of gender in case of inheritance.
When Can the Courts Apply This Law?
Given the exceptional bouquet of rights provided by the Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law to non-Muslims, it is important to understand when the Abu Dhabi courts will exercise jurisdiction.
Abu Dhabi courts will have jurisdiction if both expatriates are residents, or have their current or former place of work in Abu Dhabi.
Courts will also have jurisdiction even if the defendant is a foreigner with no residence in Abu Dhabi but:
1) The case is regarding divorce concerning a civil marriage concluded in Abu Dhabi; or
2) The defendant’s chosen domicile is in Abu Dhabi; or
3) One of the defendants has a residence or place of work in Abu Dhabi; or
4) The wife is the claimant and is based in Abu Dhabi.
If based on the above factors, the courts in Abu Dhabi decided to exercise jurisdiction, they may apply the Abu Dhabi non-Muslim Personal Status Law in the following circumstances:
1) if the applicant is a non-Muslim local;
2) if he is a non-Muslim expatriate, he holds citizenship of a country which does not apply the Shariah principles; or
3) if the non-Muslim concluded his marriage in a country which does not apply the Shariah principles; or
4) if the case relates to divorce or civil marriage concluded in Abu Dhabi.
If any of the above factors do not exist, then even if the courts in Abu Dhabi have jurisdiction, they may not apply the new law.
One of the key changes introduced by the new law is the changes in divorce proceedings.
Under the new law, a spouse can apply to the courts for a divorce based on a no-fault application. The spouse only has to show willingness for ending the marital relationship, without showcasing any damage or blaming the other party. The courts will decide this application in the first hearing itself. That said, the first hearing will take place after 30 days from the date of application, to give parties time for potential reconciliation.
What are the new rules on the custody of children? What financial rights does a wife get under the new law? We will explore these questions in the next and final part of this series.