UAE overhauls Family law

The UAE government has embarked on one of the biggest overhauls of the legal system in years with changes to family law and other areas affecting people’s daily lives.

The laws which are effective immediately reflect progressive measures to improve living standards and to ensure that people from around the world continue to want to invest in the country and live there.

The UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities and the reforms have been brought in to accommodate their needs. The reforms will affect laws that relate to divorce and separation, how wills and assets are divided, alcohol, suicide and the protection of women.

Amendments will include the introduction of new laws which will enable non-Emiratis to have their personal affairs dealt with according to the law of their home country. This is a key development for the significant number of UK expats that live and work there. This would mean that Islamic or Sharia law would be rarely used when it comes to family law cases involving expatriates.

A key change is that if a couple have married in their home country but seek to divorce in the UAE, the laws of the country where the marriage took place will apply. The new law mentions that the court could be called upon to mediate if no agreement can be reached with regard to joint assets and joint accounts.

The changes also cover wills and inheritance. Until now, family members of a deceased person, could have found assets being divided in accordance with Sharia law which many expats are unfamiliar with. The changes provide that person’s citizenship will dictate how their assets are divided among their next of kin unless they have a written will. The only exception is for property purchased in the UAE which will be managed according to UAE law.

Alcohol consumption is no longer a criminal offence, so anyone who drinks or is in possession of alcohol or sells alcohol beverages in authorised areas without a licence will not face penalties. You must still be over 21 to drink legally and anyone selling alcohol to someone under 21 will be punished. The previous Abu Dhabi requirement for individuals to have an alcohol licence was removed in September.

The new law also mandates that translators are provided for defendants and witnesses in court if they do not speak Arabic. There are also enhanced privacy laws in cases relating to indecent acts so that these cases will not be publicly disclosed.

If you are a UK expat who is experiencing family breakdown in the UAE then please do contact me and I will seek to assist you as to what steps are necessary utilising contacts when appropriate.

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