The UAE is introducing a personal status law to administer matrimonial and succession affairs for non-Muslim expats residing in the country.
The move will come into force from 1 February 2023 and will see each Emirate establish a family court to deal with disputes among expats.
The roll-out follows a landmark case in the Abu Dhabi court in October 2022 – known as SA v FA – where for the first time non-Sharia law was applied for an expat divorce case.
The newly-introduced law will have jurisdiction in any family case involving resident expats or those who used to reside in the UAE, where a civil marriage ended, if a child in based in the jurisdiction, or if either party has a work or home address in the UAE.
For the non-Muslim provision to apply, the parties will need to have had their marriage end following the introduction of the non-Sharia law; non-Muslim expats will need to have a resident visa and a passport of another country where Sharia law doesn’t apply; or the marriage ended in a country whose family law does not include Sharia principles.
As part of the provisions, unilateral ‘no-fault divorces’ will also be introduced.
Beyond divorces, the new law will also allow for the registration of Wills when signing a marriage contract, giving the option to non-Muslim spouses to choose the distribution of their UAE-based wealth upon death.
More specifically, half of the estate will go to the spouse and the other half equally split among children, regardless of their gender.
Natalie Sutherland, partner at Burgess Mee Family Law, who led the SA v FA case, told International Adviser: “The extension of the new personal status law for non-Muslims to all the emirates from February 2023, following the establishment of the civil and family courts for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, will enable expats throughout the UAE to benefit from these new specialist law courts.
“British expats throughout the UAE, who may previously have issued divorce proceedings in England and Wales to avoid Sharia law, will now have the option of issuing locally, or defending an English petition on the basis that the new non-Muslim family court is the more convenient forum.
“Our recent case of SA v FA, which saw an English circuit judge rule in favour of the non-Muslim court in Abu Dhabi, will likely be relied upon by those wishing to avail themselves of the new personal status laws.”