The step-by-step guide to getting a divorce in the UAE

A guide to divorcing through the UAE courts - from where to file, the different courts involved and how much it costs.

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Getting a divorce through the UAE courts generally takes between three months and a year. But it can take longer.

However, Diana Hamade, a Dubai-based Emirati lawyer for International Advocate Legal Services, says some judges are shortening this by not allowing either party to play games in a bid to stall the process.

Divorce should be filed at a court in the emirate in which you are a resident.

Courts in the UAE will grant a man divorce without a motive, but for a woman the grounds sought have to be physical or psychological harm. If no harm is found, she can ask for ‘khulu’ – needing a divorce because she is no longer in love with her husband.

If you are an expatriate, first check whether an order from the UAE courts can be enforced in your home country.

Islamic marriages by and large are governed by Sharia law, and the same is likely if the man is Muslim and the woman non-Muslim (either a Christian or a Jew, as no woman of other religions are permitted to marry a Muslim man unless they convert to Islam.)

While expatriates can divorce anywhere – with the divorce ruling recognised by the authorities here as far as residency, employment benefits and other matters are concerned – Ms Hamade says there can be problems enforcing some foreign judgments if one party fails to comply.

Whenever the law of the husband’s home country fails to cover an aspect of the divorce procedure, the courts hold discretion to apply the UAE law.

There are five stages of divorce proceedings in the UAE:

The conciliator

To start divorce proceedings in the UAE, a couple has to see a conciliator to try to iron out their differences or reach an amicable settlement.

“Conciliators are not lawyers or judges, but more like family guidance counsellors,” says Ms Hamade. “They will meet each person individually and then together, and give them some time to contemplate their situation to be sure that divorce is the right path for them.”

This process should not go beyond the three-month period stipulated by law.

You are required to submit the marriage certificate, the marriage contract (an agreement that may stipulate a dowry if the couple are Muslim), passport copies of the spouse and children, and the children’s birth certificates.

First Instance Court

The case passes to the First Instance Court once the conciliator feels no settlement will be reached.

You are free to bring a lawyer, but the court will still hear you without one. As court proceedings are in Arabic, a translator is provided for those who require one.

Once a case is filed, the other party has the opportunity to provide a defence reply and the first party is given a chance to review that defence and produce a counter-reply. This process can go on as per the discretion of the judge before he moves to a judgment. Once this is issued, there is a 28-day time period to appeal.

During this process, the court will ask for evidence of any claims that one of the parties is making, such as witnesses or documents of payments. There are also instances when cases are referred to referees – two people assigned to look into a dispute to see who is at fault. These people will give a report to the court and the judge will give his decision upon it.

Appeal Court

This follows the same process as the First Instance Court, but with three judges rather than one. Again, a 28-day period is given for parties to dispute further.

Court of Cassation

This reviews the papers to ensure the legal technical processes were followed. No new evidence can be submitted here.

Enforcement Court

This court actions the requirements stipulated in the judgment verdicts (for example, to pay school fees). If at any point during the first four stages there is agreement, they can fast forward to the last stage of proceedings in the Enforcement Court.

The costs

Lawyers’ fees are between Dh8,000 and Dh25,000 for an amicable divorce and Dh35,000 to Dh50,000 for a disputed divorce. The divorce is separate to the financial settlement, which is billed in addition.

Although the courts provide a translator for free, translated documents cost up to Dh80 per page. There are no court fees except referees when appointed, which cost Dh3,000 to Dh10,000.

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