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What is the process for civil marriage and divorce in Abu Dhabi

Non-Muslims in the UAE now have the option to get married in a civil ceremony after Abu Dhabi opened its new non-Muslim Personal Status Court last year. The dedicated family court for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi oversees personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody under Law No. 14 of 2021 on non-Muslims Personal Status in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

On the 7th of November 2021, his highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan President of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of its Capital Abu Dhabi issued law No. 4/2021 regarding civil marriage and its effects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. This introduced new principles in relation to the personal status laws in a way that meets modern international practices, given the fact that the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has become one of the most attractive destinations for expatriates from all around the world.

The abovementioned law was published on the 15th November 2021 and entered into force on the 15th  December 2021. However, the details surrounding its applicability remained vague until this week when the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department issued Decision No. 8/2022 on the regulations pertaining to civil marriage and divorce within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Pursuant to the new regulations, a new court has been established which will have jurisdiction to examine and rule on different personal status matters such as civil marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance, alimony, and other matters. For Non-Muslim UAE nationals and Foreigners of various nationalities (with the exception of foreigners where Sharia principles apply to personal status matters in their country of origin),he said court will have territorial jurisdiction as well.

The process of a civil marriage has been simplified - any couple -of sound legal and mental capacity - can electronically submit an English-Arabic bilingual template for executing and registering their civil marriage. Relevant documents must be attached to the application such as passport copy, residency visa, Emirates ID and other official documents showing the religion of the parties, acknowledgment of the non-existence of an ongoing marriage, amongst other matters. The court fees can be also settled electronically.

Following the submission, the court will examine the documents to make sure that the conditions are met. If the application is approved, the court will contact the concerned couple within 3 working days in order to schedule an appointment for the issuance and delivery of the marriage certificate to the couple. The couple can attend the meeting virtually or physically in court.

What happens in the instance of a divorce?

The process of a civil divorce is more complicated, which is normal given the possibility of a potential dispute between the couple. Each of the husband or wife have the right to file a petition for divorce without any need to prove any damage or justification behind filing for divorce.

The party applying for divorce will have to complete the English-Arabic Bilingual template with a docket of documents attached to it and settle the court fees. The court will decide if the petition meets all the requirements, especially in relation to the court jurisdiction to rule on the matter.

In the event the petition is approved, the court will schedule a hearing for the issuance of the divorce order after a period of at least 30 days from the date on which the petition was approved. The parties will be notified of the hearing date. The defendant will have the right to challenge the court jurisdiction by submitting a memo 10 days before the hearing. On the day of the hearing, the judge will issue his ruling.

It is worth noting that decision no. 8 of 2022 has also allowed the parties to seek arbitration to resolve any dispute whether prior or after the actual dispute.

These new developments will undoubtedly appeal to many expats residing in the United Arab Emirates, which once again proves to be one of the fastest growing countries in the region socially as well as economically.

Read the full article, published in Gulf News: 'How non-Muslim expats and tourists can get married in Abu Dhabi'. 

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