New legislation in the UAE has come into effect allowing non-Muslim expats to marry and divorce and will cover other aspects of family law such as child custody, inheritance and wills.
The "Federal Personal Status Laws" which came into effect yesterday are part of reforms that were approved in November 2021 by the late President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The new family law for non-Muslim residents was announced in December. Prior to the amendments in the law, couples seeking a divorce in a local court would have to follow a Sharia-based process, with many opting to marry, divorce or arrange a will abroad, the National reported.
According to state news agency WAM, the laws are intended to "regulate marriage, conditions, and procedures of contracting and documenting the marriage before the competent courts" for non-Muslims outside of Islamic law.
Under the new laws, non-Muslim couples can now marry "based on the will of both the husband and wife", meaning they will no longer need to obtain consent from the woman's father or guardian to marry. Spouses will also have the right to divorce without having to prove that their partner was at fault or has caused harm during the marriage, known as "no-fault" divorces.
It is expected that change in the law, which has been described as a nationwide extension of Abu Dhabi's civil marriage system, will lead to an increase in non-Muslim marriage ceremonies in the Gulf state. Last year, the Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court registered 5,000 marriages of expatriate couples, 12 per cent of whom were tourists.
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