It is no secret the UAE has the highest rate of divorce in the region, with Dubai taking first place within the country. In 2012, Dubai alone recorded 1,129 divorces, with divorce among Emiratis making up one-third of all separations.
Various reasons for the high rates of divorce in the country have been cited including marital infidelity, poor communication, job loss or financial strain, social media, religious and cultural differences and unrealistic expectations.
But when a partnership breaks down, how should a couple go about making their separation official?
Divorce among Muslim couples
Islamic marriages, by and large, are governed by Sharia law. In Dubai, the first step in filing for divorce is to register the case at the Moral and Family Guidance Section of the Dubai Courts. Attempts to reconcile divorcing parties will be made with the guidance of an appointed counsellor. If both parties are adamant about the divorce, then the case is forwarded to the courts. Situations when one desires to reconcile while the other doesn’t will still end up being forwarded to the courts.
Divorce among expats
Non-Muslims and other expats can file for divorce in their home country (domicile) or apply for divorce in the UAE. Non-Muslims who married in the country can divorce under their own country’s laws.
Matters become complicated, though, when the divorcing couple, even if both citizens of the same foreign country, decide to have the local courts facilitate their divorce. Problems regarding child support, custody, alimony and the division of assets can be a big headache when the divorce laws in their country of origin do not coincide with Sharia laws. It must be noted that when the local courts are summoned to decide on divorce proceedings between expats, Sharia laws may prevail over that of their home country.
This can lead the aggrieved party, or the one losing out more financially, to seek an appeal or proper financial settlement in their home country, which will then begin another cycle of financial, emotional and physical challenges.
Things can also take a turn for the worse if the parties come from two different countries and cannot decide where they will apply for divorce. Imagine a scenario where the local courts are made to decide, and both parties are unhappy about the outcome. This could lead to further legal struggles on both sides.
The divorce process and costs
When arranging a divorce, seek the advice of a specialist divorce lawyer (with knowledge of local Sharia law). A divorce questionnaire is usually completed to give the lawyer an idea of where the divorce can take place and costs. Jurisdiction has an impact on divorce and financial settlements, so this has to be considered from the outset. For example in local Sharia courts, a wife cannot claim maintenance from her husband but can through UK courts.
The professional fees for an amicable, uncontested divorce ranges from approximately Dh8,000 to Dh12,000. Disbursements are in addition.
Divorce is separate to financial settlement, which is billed in addition.
How long it takes
This usually depends on the complexity of the matter but can be three to six months, sometimes more, depending on the case. For example, divorce proceedings in Dubai are quicker than in the UK.
Because divorce cases in the UAE are governed by the Islamic Sharia law, it can be difficult for the estranged couple to separate as the judge must be fully convinced the marriage will not work.
Once you have decided to apply for divorce, establish you are of sound mind and able to make your own choices. The matter is then registered at the Moral and Family Guidance Section at the Dubai Court. Shortly afterwards, a counsellor meets the couple to discuss their problems to see if there is any chance of reconciliation, before beginning the divorce process.
If the couple, or either of them, still insist on divorce, the application will be forwarded to a judge at court to obtain his decision on the divorce.
If the couple are both Muslims and residents in the UAE, Sharia/UAE law will most likely be applied to their divorce. The same is likely if the husband is a Muslim and the woman a non-Muslim.
Find a peaceful conclusion
Engaging lawyers will help ensure a warring couple have an orderly parting, and that any children borne out of their union (or adopted in the course of their marriage) are fairly protected. The best recourse is doing everything you can to arrive at an amicable settlement with your soon-to-be ex.
Nita Maru is a solicitor and managing partner of TWS Legal Consultants in Dubai
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