Stock Abu Dhabi Judicial Department
Abu Dhabi Judicial Department Image Credit: Courtesy Abu Dhabi Judicial Department

Abu Dhabi: His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, in his capacity as ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, has issued a law to regulate personal status matters for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi with the aim of providing a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims, thus enhancing the emirate’s position and global competitiveness as one of the most attractive destinations for talent and skills.

The law also aims to confirm the emirate’s leadership by issuing the first civil law governing non-Muslim family matters in line with international best practices, and to guarantee the right of non-Muslims to be subject to an internationally acknowledged law that is familiar to them in terms of culture, customs and language, as well as to achieve and protect the best interests of children, particularly in the case of parental separation.

Youssef Saeed Al Abri, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD), noted that the new legislation is the first of its kind in the world as it deals with the smallest details regarding non-Muslims’ family life, and reflects Abu Dhabi’s legislative leadership and the global status it has achieved, following the wise vision of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyanand the judicious directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in order to keep pace with all the developments and innovations to strengthen this leadership in various fields.

Al Abri added that the Judicial Department has been working according to the inspiration of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, in order to provide innovative solutions to non-Muslims’ personal status issues that are brought before the courts, after studying and analysing them and working to come up with sophisticated legislative solutions that provide a modern judicial framework for foreigners residing in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to resolve family disputes in a flexible manner in line with international best practices.

The new law applies civil principles in the regulation of family matters, explained the undersecretary of the ADJD, who also announced the establishment by the Judicial Department of the first court dedicated to non-Muslim family matters. All the procedures of the new court will be bilingual in Arabic and English in order to facilitate the understanding of judicial procedures by foreigners and to improve judicial transparency.

The five chapters

In detail, the law consists of 20 articles divided into several chapters covering civil marriage, divorce, joint custody of children and inheritance.

The first chapter of the law regulates the marriage procedures of foreigners before the court by introducing the concept of civil marriage based on the will of both the husband and wife.

The second chapter defines the divorce procedures for non-Muslims, the rights of the spouses after divorce and the discretion of the judge in assessing the financial rights of the wife based on several criteria, such as the number of years of marriage, the age of the wife, the economic standing of each of the spouses and other considerations that the judge takes into account in determining the wife’s financial rights.

The third chapter introduces a new concept in post-divorce child custody, namely, the sharing of custody equally between the father and mother, or what is known in in some Western countries as joint or shared custody, in order to safeguard the cohesion of the family after divorce and to preserve the psychological health of the children.

The fourth chapter addresses inheritance issues, the registration of wills for non-Muslims, and the right of a foreigner to draw up a will devolving all his/her property to whomever he/she wishes.

Finally, the fifth chapter of the law regulates the proof of paternity for non-Muslim foreigners, providing that the proof of paternity of the newborn child is based on marriage or recognition of paternity.