The UAE introduces non-Muslim Family & Divorce Courts for Expats, but are they a welcome addition?


It has always been quite usual for British Expats to utilise the British courts for their divorce and subsequent financial and children issues, and this has long been accepted both by the UAE and the British courts. The Muslim faith governs much of the law in the UAE surrounding families and is not easily applicable to British Expats who are not of Muslim faith and so the practice of Expats living in the UAE but relying on the British court system to determine their family matters has become the norm. However, this could be about to change.

Given that there are high numbers of non-Muslim Expats living in the UAE it seems they are now willing to bring more Western values to designated courts and have introduced in the Capital, Abu Dhabi, a UAE Family Court to deal with divorcing Expats.

Civil Family Law

The UAE Government introduced a new Civil Family Law on 1 February 2023 and provides that each Emirate can establish a non-Muslim family court. Although the Court in Abu Dhabi set up in late 2021 is the first of its kind it is likely now that the new law has been passed that the other Emirates, especially those with high numbers of Expats like Dubai, will follow suit and open their own non-Muslim civil courts. These courts will be able to determine matters such as marriage, divorce, financial matters, arrangements for children and inheritance.

Until a recent case Expats will have been confident in their ability to return a family breakdown issue such as divorce to a familiar family Court in their home country. This case was ruled upon last year, SA V FA [2022], whereby the couple moved to the UAE in 2008 and later married and had twins. They had made their home there and the husband’s income was derived from his work within a UAE law firm. The wealthy husband had assets in the region of 4.5 million with the wife having very little. Despite arguments put forward by the wife’s legal team of their concerns about new and under developed/un-tested court and worries that any decisions being made in the UAE court would be in line with Sharia norms, given that the judge appointed at the court was a male Muslim, the English courts found in favor of the Husband and the presiding Judge, when met with an application by the wife for the divorce to be dealt with in England & Wales,  determined that the proceedings for divorce and ancillary matters should be dealt with by the new UAE Family Court in Abu Dhabi, as the Husband had wished.

The option therefore for British Expats to return any divorce, financial or children matters to the UK is now uncertain and will likely have to be determined on a case by case basis. It remains a great concern that children matters arising within Expat couples whom are living in the UAE may still be determined in accordance with Sharia Law despite the new laws being passed.

How can Pinney Talfourd help?

Our family team of solicitors are experts in family law. We provide advice and guidance to British expats going through divorce proceedings. We offer a FREE 30-minute consultation for new clients from anyone of our office as well as online and telephone consultations.

If you would like to discuss a family legal matter, please call 01708 229 444 or contact a member of our family team directly to arrange an appointment.


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