Effective from 1 February 2023, Federal Decree Law No. 41 of 2022 on Civil Personal Status for non-Muslims (“Civil Family Law”) will introduce significant amendments to the family legislations. The provisions of the Decree-Law will apply to non-Muslims residing in the country unless someone adheres to the application of their country’s law. Non-Muslim foreigners may also agree to implement other legislation on family or personal status in the UAE instead of the provisions of this Decree-Law. Currently, the Federal Personal Status Law No. 28 of 2005 determines the rights of all parties in accordance with Shariah Law. The Federal Personal Status Law is one of the latest in a series of continuous efforts to modernise the UAE’s legal system. This alert summarizes the new law as follows:
The Decree-Law will allow non-Muslim couples to marry in a non-Sharia legal process. The conditions for individuals wishing to marry must be at least 21 years old and both parties will be required to complete a declaration form in the presence of a judge. Also, the Federal Decree 41 states marriage should not be between siblings, children, grandchildren or uncles, and any other cases specified by the related implementing regulations. Since February 2022, non-Muslim couples have been allowed marry before Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court using this process, like registry office weddings in Europe.
Another important amendment is the introduction of “no-fault” divorce. It will be granted if either spouse expresses, before the court, their desire to terminate the marriage without being required to justify or demonstrate any wrongdoing during the duration of their marriage.
The Federal-Decree also addresses the arrangement of shared child custody of children under the age of 18. If difference arise between the parents in relation to custody, a request can be submitted to the court seeking to exclude the other parent based on the best interests of the child.
A fundamental change has been introduced by Federal-Decree on the procedure for inheritance and testaments (a will). Non-Muslims will be allowed register wills at the same time as their marriage certificate, allowing them to give their assets to anyone they wish. In the absence of a will of the deceased at the time of their death, 50 per cent of their estate will go to their spouse, and the other 50 per cent equally distributed between any children. In the absence of offspring, the 50 per cent remaining will go to either surviving parents or siblings.
A dedicated family court for non-Muslims will be opened to hear all cases related to marriage, custody, divorce, paternity, inheritance, and personal status. This major legislation is undeniably important to the non-Muslims society and provides more assurance to them with respect to manage their civil personal status matters.