New non-Muslim court in Abu Dhabi can process divorce case in a day

Kate Scully, one of the first to go through the new court system, says it was quick and painless

Kate Scully says the divorce process was quick and painless. Victor Besa / The National
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It took just one day for an American woman in Abu Dhabi to attend court with her soon-to-be former husband and receive a message to say her divorce had been finalised.

The hearing itself took 10 minutes and the text message confirming it had been processed was received later that day.

The court date had been booked only 10 days previously.

Kate Scully, 35, a mother of two, was one of the first people to go through the new court system, which was announced in November. The court deals with cases related to marriage, custody, divorce, paternity, inheritance and personal status for non-Muslim residents.

The whole process took 10 days. It was quick and painless
Kate Scully

Ms Scully had been married for about 10 years when she and her husband decided to split.

The Abu Dhabi resident had previously been considering her options and when news broke of the new court being set up in the capital for people in her position she felt it was the right time to proceed.

Under the new laws, spouses have the right to divorce without needing to prove harm was done in the marriage, or going through any lengthy mediation process.

When it comes to the children, joint and equal custody is automatically granted to parents after divorce, with procedures in place to settle disputes.

Ms Scully’s case was one of the first to be tried under the new court, which has granted about five divorces since its inception.

“I know that it used to be really hard when there wasn’t a non-Muslim court so it would have been really hard for us [to divorce],” Ms Scully told The National.

“Literally, 10 days before my court date, I walked into the happiness centre at Mushrif mall and gave them my documents, which were my marriage certificate and emirates ID. I asked them to make sure it was going to the non-Muslim court and paid a few simple fees and that was it.”

Ms Scully was given her court date a few minutes later.

Under the previous system she would have been given a court date months later and only after attending several failed mediation sessions between the couple.

In total the process could take up to three years, especially if there was a lack of proof of harm, a previous requirement of divorce.

“We waited for the judge to show up on Zoom and it was the easiest thing I had ever done. We received the final judgment on the same day through an SMS and that was it.”

Ms Scully received her divorce papers on Wednesday the 19th, 10 days after she filed for it.

Getting a divorce back home in the US would have been much more painful, she said.

“This is something I researched before and it is nearly impossible to get a divorce in the US without a lawyer. It is extremely costly and time consuming and as a mom of two kids, I was really not looking forward to it. I am also a child of divorced parents and I saw my parents in court for over five years.

“I was really impressed by how easy the system was. The whole process took 10 days. It was quick and painless.”

Ms Scully will share custody of the children with her former husband.

“The law manages divorce cases in a peaceful, swift, and civilised separation procedure, by simply considering divorce as a right and not as a legal battle or a dispute,” said legal expert Hesham Al Rafei.

“The law recognises that adults are old enough to make their own decisions, whether to marry or to divorce, the court's role is not to intervene with that unless to offer protection when needed.”

One of the many benefits of an expedited system is that if children are involved they will not be subject to a drawn-out legal battle, Mr Al Rafei said.

"The new law also takes into consideration the mental health and stability of the kids by limiting the hostility between the parents caused by a lengthy litigation battle before the courts.

"That's why the divorce is granted within 30 days of filing the case,” he said.

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Updated: January 30, 2022, 4:19 AM