Dubai: If you had a family matter submitted to courts in the UAE – whether it has to do with marriage, divorce or even a child’s custody case – here is how the coronavirus pandemic has changed how courts are processing such legal issues.
Dr Hassan Elhais, legal consultant at Dubai-based Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultancy, said that while movement restrictions were easing and places were opening up, spouses who are seeking court-ordered relief regarding their personal status matters may not know how to proceed with their application.
According to Dr Elhais, before the new coronavirus disrupted everyday life, Muslim expats were required to register with the Family Matter court, if they were seeking to get married.
These are the general requirements for a marriage to take place:
• Approval of the bride
• In Dubai, at least one party to the marriage contract (husband, wife or wife’s guardian) should have a residence visa in the UAE. In other emirates, both bride and groom must be UAE residents.
• A positive pre-marital screening certificate for the couple issued from the concerned public healthcare facilities in the UAE
By making pre-marital screening mandatory, the UAE aims to arrest the spread of communicable diseases such as AIDS.
Marital screening test must be done through one of the medical centres of the:
• Ministry of Health and Prevention
• Department of Health - Abu Dhabi
• Dubai Health Authority.
Based on the medical screening certificate, application for marriage may be denied if one of the parties suffers from a:
• genetically inherited blood disease
• transferable disease.
Online request for marriage certificate
Even before the coronavirus-related restrictions were implemented, UAE courts allowed applicants to request for marriage certificates online.
Ministry of Justice
To register for a marriage contract: https://www.moj.gov.ae/en/services/services-categories/general/marriage-contracts.aspx
Contact: 800 333 333
To register for a marriage contract:https://www.dc.gov.ae/PublicServices/ServiceDetails.aspx?serviceid=1508&lang=en
Contact: 04 3347777
Abu Dhabi Judicial System
Contact: 800 2353
Non-Muslim expats can conclude marriage formalities at:
• the embassy or consulate of their country in the UAE;
• or at a temple, gurudwara or a church as per their religion.
Some countries require their citizens to file an application of intention to marry at their embassy or consulate in the UAE. You are advised to check with your embassy and proceed accordingly. The marriage must also be registered in the embassies of both partners in the UAE.
• Original Emirates ID card of all signatories/parties of the contract – the couple, guardian and witnesses.
• The guardian needs to have a power of attorney, in the absence of the woman’s father.
• Original medical examination
• There may be additional requirements in special cases, which, should be confirmed through each court.
Both spouses would have to visit the court according to a scheduled appointment along with their official documents, the bride’s guardian and witnesses, according to Dr Elhais.
“An authorised marriage cleric would conduct the marriage in the physical presence of all these people,” he added.
“All marriages were suspended during the first phase of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but phase two saw marriages being conducted virtually after the Ministry of Justice and the Dubai Courts launched online services for the purpose,” Dr Elhais said.
All marriages were suspended during the first phase of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, but phase two saw marriages being conducted virtually after the Ministry of Justice and the Dubai Courts launched online services for the purpose
The service allows couples to upload their documents on the Ministry of Justice website, or the Dubai Courts website, based on where they are getting married.
“They can then choose an available date to schedule an online appointment with a cleric. Whereas the essentials for an Islamic marriage remain constant, the only change is the aspect of physical presence, which was replaced by a digital interface. During the virtual ceremony using a video conferencing facility, a cleric would identify the required witnesses in the marriage, execute the marriage contract between the parties through digital signature, following which he would confirm the marriage by issuing an attested certificate to this effect,” Dr Elhais said.
Another big change, according to Dr Elhais, is the absence of grand marriage celebrations, which continue to be prohibited.
Islamic marriages are governed by the Sharia law. If both husband and wife are Muslims and residents in the UAE, Sharia/UAE law will most likely be applied to their divorce. The same is likely if the husband is a Muslim and the woman a non-Muslim.
Divorce laws for non-Muslim couples
Non-Muslim expatriate residents can file for divorce in their home country (domicile) or apply for divorce in the UAE.
If the parties wish to have the law of their home country applied, they may petition for this before the court. Article 1 of the Federal Law No 28 of 2005 for Personal Affairs states: “The provisions of this Law shall apply on citizens of the United Arab Emirates State unless non-Muslims among them have special provisions applicable to their community or confession. They shall equally apply to non-citizens unless one of them asks for the application of his law.”
This means that relevant parties may ask to apply their own laws to personal status matters.
It also provides: The law of the state of which the husband is a national at the time the marriage is contracted shall apply to the effects on personal status and the effects with regards to property resulting from contracting of the marriage.
Whenever the law of the parties' home country fails to cover an aspect of the divorce procedure, the courts hold discretion to apply the UAE law.
• File an application with the Family Guidance Department.
• Copy of marriage certificate.
• Copy of identity cards of both parties.
According to Dr Elhais, even though a copy of the marriage certificate is required initially, it is important to keep the original for a later date, to submit to the court when required.
Family counselling before COVID-19
Dr Elhasis spoke about the mandatory family counselling that couples need to attend to – individually or together – by the Family Guidance Department, when applying for a divorce.
“Before the pandemic, spouses seeking divorce had to physically attend a mandatory meeting with the staff of Family Guidance Department who would either succeed in amicably resolving the marital dispute or issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to both parties to proceed with the registration of their divorce case before the Personal Status Court,” he said.
“No spouse is allowed to skip the mandatory mediation meeting before a case with the Personal Status Court is registered but this had to be suspended as part of the precautionary measures taken to combat a spread of COVID-19,” he added.
Family counselling after COVID-19
To adapt to the restrictions implemented by UAE authorities to ensure community health and wellbeing, a change was brought to make these counselling sessions possible.
“Family Guidance Department staff started calling each spouse individually in order to achieve amicable settlements between couples to subsequently curb the number of divorces,” Dr Elhais said.
If the counselling team is unable to reach an amicable settlement, the process for issuing an NOC for the couple to proceed with the divorce case has also changed.
“Earlier, such certificates were duly signed by the mediator with the court stamp, but now an electronic document can be downloaded from the court’s website to replace the No Objection Certificate (NOC) without the requirement of a wet ink signature or a court’s stamp,” Dr Elhais said.
Court proceedings online
The court proceedings, too, have moved online and the judge hears the case through video conferencing. The two parties receive the necessary links and details for the video conference via email, which is sent to the parties involved or their lawyers.
When do I need a divorce lawyer?
According to Dr Elhais, any divorce which involves custody and financial rights dispute or financial arrangements would need a lawyer.
“In some divorce cases both parties accept to an amicable arrangement amicable, especially if they do not have kids. They do not want a complicated arrangement, and proceed with the divorce, without the need for a lawyer,” he said.
Execution of the divorce
According to Dr Elhais, the execution of a divorce and settlement agreement was the step which did not shift online as it mandated the physical attendance of the parties signing the agreement, as agreements may contain details that are private and confidential to families.
“As of now, Dubai courts have started accepting people to come in to sign the agreements, after movement restrictions were lifted,” he said.
The visitation rights of a parent after divorce also saw a change during the pandemic.
“Because movements were restricted, public centres and venues - where supervised visitations normally took place - were shut down, and with visiting children by the non-custodian parents not considered an emergency in fear of spreading infections, such supervised visitation orders could not be implemented and were suspended during the pandemic. The spouse who was awarded custody of the child has the discretion to cooperate with the other spouse - without relying on the visitation order - and arrange any necessary visitations while committing to safety protocols.
“The custodian spouse may also prevent visitations for reasons related to transporting the contagion and the courts could not interfere as it keeps the best interest and safety of the child in mind. However, non-custodian parents could meet virtually with their children,” Dr Elhais said.
- Information courtesy government.ae