United Arab Emirates: marriage, divorce, inheritance; Explanation of the Personal Status Law for Non-Muslims – News


This category of people constitutes nearly a quarter of the UAE’s population, out of nearly 10 million people

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Posted by Rajeev Suri

Published: Saturday, September 2, 2023, at 6:00 am

Effective February 1, 2023, the UAE government issued a new personal status law for non-Muslims pursuant to Federal Decree Law No. 41/2022. This law specifically addresses the civil personal status of non-Muslims in the United Arab Emirates. This group of people makes up nearly a quarter of the UAE’s population, out of a population of nearly 10 million. It includes both citizens and residents.

Since the issuance of the new law, during these few months, we have seen that there is great curiosity among the non-Muslim population regarding some of the provisions of the said law especially when we talk about marriage, divorce, inheritance, registration of wills, adoption of children, etc. This law helps clarify such issues for non-Muslims in the UAE. Accordingly, we have collected a few of these questions of common interest and provided answers to them that will help the non-Muslim population of the UAE better understand the nuances of the new law as they relate to them.

1. What is the scope or applicability of the said decree?

This decree applies to non-Muslim citizens as well as foreigners residing in the United Arab Emirates. This does not apply to non-Muslim foreigners who are not residents or citizens of the United Arab Emirates.

2. Does the law apply to non-resident non-Muslim foreigners who own real estate or properties in the UAE?

No, this law does not apply to non-resident foreigners and non-Muslims who own real estate in the UAE. They will still attract the applicability of local laws including Sharia as applied unless of course there is a registered will providing for a specific distribution or division of the estate and/or the applicability of their state law. Please refer to the provisions of Article (17) of the Civil Transactions Law, that is, Federal Law No. (5) of 1985, as amended by Article (1) of Federal Decree-Law No. (30) dated 09/27/2020, which is shown below:

– Taking into account the provisions of Paragraphs (3) and (4) of this Article, the law in force in the testator’s country at the time of his death shall apply to the heritage.

– The financial rights on state lands owned by a foreigner who has no heirs are transferred to the state.

– The substantive provisions of a will and all posthumous dispositions are governed by the law of the state as determined by the will or act of disposition, or by the law of the state of the person making the disposition. It belonged to him at his death if no law was specified in the will or act of disposition.

The form of the will and all dispositions related to the post-death stage are subject to the law of the state in which this disposition takes place upon its issuance, or the law of the state in which this disposition occurred.

– Provided that the law of the United Arab Emirates prevails with regard to the will issued by a foreigner regarding his real estate in the country.

3. What does the decree stipulate, or rather, what are the most prominent points of the new personal status law for non-Muslims?

The following are the highlights of the new personal status law for non-Muslims:

a. It provides for equality in testimony before the courts of the United Arab Emirates with regard to sex. In other words, it provides for the validity of the testimony of men and women before the court without any discrimination between the sexes.

B. It provides for equal rights between non-Muslim men and women in matters of inheritance.

c. It states that either the husband or the wife can apply for divorce from the court unilaterally and without giving any reason for that.

Dr.. Finally, it provides equal rights for non-Muslim men and women to seek joint custody of a child until they reach the age of 18. Once the child reaches the age of 18, he or she will be free to choose which parent to live with.

4. What are the conditions for civil marriage under the decree?

Article 5 specifically addresses the conditions that must be met for civil marriages with non-Muslims to become legal. These are as follows:

a. Both husband and wife must have reached the marriageable age of 21 years. This can be proven with the help of any official document issued in the country they belong to or duly certified birth certificates.

B. It is not permissible to marry between relatives such as sons, brothers, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and the like.

c. The spouses must express their consent before the notarial judge. It can be oral or written but must be expressed explicitly.

Dr.. Both spouses need to sign the disclosure form which can be obtained from the consulates of the countries they belong to. This should disclose any previous or existing marital relations or divorce details, if any.

5. Are prenuptial contracts allowed?

Yes, prenuptial contracts are permitted and must include the following:

a. Specific rights of husband and wife during marriage and after divorce.

B. Child custody in the event of divorce which can be held jointly until the child reaches the age of 18.

c. Distribution of wealth in the event of the death of one of the spouses.

Dr.. Granting alimony after divorce.

It is always advised to seek the assistance of professional lawyers who have experience in drafting prenuptial agreements.

6. Are there grounds for divorce and how is it initiated?

Either spouse can voluntarily initiate divorce proceedings before the court by expressing their desire to separate. There is no justification, or any grounds required, to initiate such a request, indicate any harm, or play the blame game. Divorce takes place by court ruling after notifying the other party.

7. How is divorce alimony granted?

A woman who has obtained a divorce must apply to the competent court to obtain alimony from her ex-husband. In the event that there is a prenuptial agreement providing for this maintenance, the court will investigate this arrangement and pass judgment accordingly. But if there is no such agreement, then the court’s acceptance of it is at the judge’s discretion, after assessing the following:

a. Number of years of marriage – more years will attract more alimony.

B. Age of the wife – The younger the wife will attract less alimony and vice versa.

c. A court-appointed accounting expert assesses the financial situation of each spouse and thus prepares a report for court consideration.

Dr.. What is the extent of the husband’s contribution to this divorce, and specifically if there is any adultery in the relationship between the husband or the wife.

H. Each spouse is obligated to compensate the other for any material or moral damage he suffers as a result of the divorce.

F. The spouse bears the costs of children in joint custody for up to two years.

g. It should also be evaluated whether the wife is diligent in taking care of the children.

h. The wife’s maintenance is dropped if she marries again.

8. How is inheritance done under the new non-Muslim law?

Article 11 deals with inheritance which can be in accordance with the registered will of the deceased resident. However, if there was no will recorded by the deceased resident, i.e. he died interstate (without leaving a will), then the inheritance will work as follows:-

a. One half (12) of the estate goes to the surviving spouse and the other half (12) is divided equally among the children. For example, if there are three children, each child will receive 12 x 13 = 16 of the share of the estate. If there are two children, each child will receive 12 x 12 = 14 shares in the estate. There is no difference between a male and a female child.

B. If the deceased had no children, their 12 shares (the other half of 12 already existed with the surviving spouse) passed to the living parents, i.e. father and mother, in equal proportions, i.e. 12 x 12 = 14 for each of the parents.

c. If there is only one surviving parent, then half of them i.e. 12 x 12 = 14 for the living parent and the other half i.e. 12 x 12 = 14 for the brother and sister in equal proportion. In other words, each surviving brother and sister will receive 14 x 12 = 18 shares in the estate. If there are 3 siblings of the deceased, each sibling will receive 14 x 13 = 112 shares in the estate.

Dr.. If the deceased did not have a husband, children, or parents alive, then the inheritance passes to the brothers and sisters equally, that is, to two brothers, the share is 12, and to three brothers, the share is 13 for each of them.

H. If the deceased had no spouse, children, or brothers/sisters, but only one surviving parent, the entire estate devolves on that living parent. If both parents are alive but there is no other heir, then each parent gets the inheritance in equal proportions i.e. 12.

F. If there are no living heirs, the entire estate is seized by the state.

9. What are the procedures for registering a will before a notary at the Dubai Court?

There are some specific steps involved in registering a will which we summarize as follows:-

1. Drafting of a Will – It must clearly state how the estate will be transferred to the heirs and what the distribution of the shares will be – which can be expressed either as fractions or as a percentage of the value of the estate.

2. Once the will has been drafted, the contents of the will must also be approved and translated into Arabic with the help of certified translator(s).

3. After that, the will must be endorsed and attested by a notary in Dubai Court – the last step in will registration.

10) Is it possible to register wills with parties other than the notary public at the Dubai Court?

Yes, wills can also be registered with the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) or the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) as it is not required to translate the document into Arabic. It can simply be drawn and recorded in English. ADGM provides specialized facilities for non-Muslims with assets in Abu Dhabi to create a will that will be recognized and enforced under the principles of the common law of inheritance. Other authority(s) are the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department which requires Arabic translation and the Ras Al Khaimah Center for International Companies, i.e. RAKICC. It is always advisable to seek the assistance of professional lawyers who are familiar with the field of probate registration in the UAE.

11. How is a child’s parentage proven under UAE law?

Article 14 stipulates that the parentage of the child is established under this law, and it can be proven as follows:

– Through the marriage of the parents. A marriage certificate from the country of origin or place where the marriage took place can be provided as proof.

– By the father and mother’s acknowledgment of the child’s paternity.

Birth certificate issued for the child.

– The court may also order a DNA test although it will only issue an order after verifying that the child is of unknown parentage and that the age difference allows the child to be attributed to whomever it claims to be its father.

The author is a Senior Associate – Intellectual Property and Corporate at Al Suwaidi & Company, a law firm and legal advisory firm


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