Abu Dhabi's new civil laws explained

The rules around inheritance, marriage and divorce have changed for some residents of the emirate

The new Family Civil Court will help non-Muslim expats marry, settle disputes and file for divorce. Alamy
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Getting married without the need for a guardian or witnesses, inheritance distribution and expediting divorce procedures are some of the changes announced for non-Muslim residents in Abu Dhabi.

Before the new law, first introduced in September, residents from non-Sharia countries were subject to rules on inheritance, marriage, divorce, child custody and alimony which were significantly different to those of their home countries.

To keep in step with the international community, Abu Dhabi authorities created the Civil Family Court to better suit residents who are not required to follow Sharia.

So how do these new laws compare with the old ones? The National explains.

Divorce and Mediation

Now for first time, the court has introduced a “no fault divorce”.

From the first divorce hearing, a couple intending to divorce may do so without the need to prove harm or justify the reasons for separation.

There is also no longer a need to go through mediation sessions which were previously required to facilitate reconciliation. The process could delay divorce procedures for many years.

Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD) said the new provisions will ensure divorces can proceed in a “swift manner in order to reduce quarrels and discord between the spouses especially if the couple has children.” The intention is to conclude all divorce cases within 30 days to limit any damaging effects on children involved.


Another new law pertains to the equal and shared custody of children. Under the federal laws, a mother would have custody of her children to the age of 11 for her daughter and 13 for her son.

A woman would also immediately lose custody if she remarried or if the court found her unfit to care for her children.

The father would be allowed supervised visits of his children depending on the judge’s decision.

Under the new law, parents will share equal custody of their children. Officials said custody of children is, from the outset, “systematically granted on an equal basis to the father and mother and details the method of alternating and dispatching joint custody between the parents, either weekly, fortnightly or monthly".


Once divorced the wife will receive alimony. Previously, alimony would be paid monthly and depend only on the spouse’s monthly income. The husband's total assets would not be taken into consideration.

Under the new laws, the total assets will be a factor in deciding alimony, in addition to providing the wife with the same lifestyle and financial statuses she held during the marriage.


For the first time the wife will be given “a lump sum” in compensation for leaving her job to care for the children. The number of years a couple has been married will also be taken into account, where a longer marriage results in a higher amount. The age of the spouses and the extent to which one of them contributed to the breakdown of the marriage will also be taken into account.

There were previously no such laws that compensated spouses for leaving a lucrative career to care for children.


Under federal laws, in cases where there is no will in place, Sharia meant a son would receive twice as much as the daughter. The Civil Family Court will now distribute inheritance more equally if there is no will in place. Half of the estate will automatically go to the spouse, with the other half distributed equally among their children.


Under federal law a woman of any age needs the consent of a guardian to marry. This was often difficult with couples whose parents or guardians were in their home country.

It was also previously a requirement to have two witnesses present.

Now with the new laws, no guardian or family member's consent is needed, and witnesses are not needed for a couple to get married.

Tourists and residents from other emirates can now easily tie the knot in the capital making it a desirable new location for destination weddings.

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Updated: February 08, 2022, 2:00 AM