UAE legal reforms: Check legal implications before choosing a destination wedding

Dubai lawyer says changes to divorce law make the wedding location key for separating couples

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The UAE announced sweeping changes to personal status laws on Saturday.

One of the most significant developments relates to divorce, separation and the division of assets if a marriage breaks down.

If a couple married in their home country but seek a divorce in the UAE, the laws of the country where the marriage took place will apply.

The law is going to change so that the place where you got married has jurisdiction

In practice, though, many UAE residents opt to get married in countries where they neither reside nor is it their home country.

They may go to a third country to have a destination wedding and the groom and bride may not necessarily be aware of the rules of the foreign land, said Byron James, a partner with Expatriate Law in Dubai.

"You are going to have to consider that when you are choosing where to get married," he told The National.

“The law is going to change so that the place where you got married has jurisdiction.

“Couples are now going to be looking at not only planning a destination wedding and making sure it’s a lovely occasion, but also the implications for a divorce.

“They should be aware that it could have a major impact on their future and the outcome of their divorce.

“We have to wait for the exact wording of the new law but if you are planning a wedding, you need to keep one eye on the location and its potential impact.

“Previously, that would never have been a consideration.”

Earlier, non-Muslim expatriate couples who divorced in the UAE could opt to have either Sharia or the laws of their home country applied.

If the couple had different passports, the laws of the husband’s country would apply.

Michael Kortbawi, partner with BSA Ahmad bin Hezeem & Associates, said the new laws will help ease the stress on couples from different backgrounds getting divorced in the UAE.

“It’s too early to say with any certainty before we see a draft of the laws but it looks like it will provide clarity for couples divorcing in the UAE,” he said.

“Previously if there was a US couple, for example, divorcing in the UAE and one was Muslim while the other was not, the case would be heard under Sharia.

“Now, it looks as if it would be heard under the jurisdiction of US law.”

Mr James also advised people to look at the possible consequences of holding a wedding in a destination where civil law is practised instead of common law.

He said civil law was much easier to apply because it had a clear set of rulings to be adhered to.

“There is a big difference between applying the law of a civil and common-law country,” he said.

“Cases from countries where civil law is applied are much easier, there you can get the codified law and translate it into Arabic. It will be much easier for a UAE judge to apply.”

Countries where civil law is applied include Belgium, Canada and France.

In case of holding a wedding in a destination where common law is practised, the case history would have to be taken into account and, for precedence, every single divorce case would have to be translated into Arabic for the UAE courts.

“Common law systems are much more problematic and much harder for a UAE judge to apply, just from a practical point of view,” Mr James said.

“You are talking about thousands of cases with at least 50 to 100 pages each, which would need to be translated for the courts here.

“Practically, it’s not possible. So, I would suggest if the couple want a different law to be applied, they are probably better off aiming for a civil-law jurisdiction.”

The new laws are being introduced to reduce the need for petitions or conflict over which laws should be applied.

The changes also mention joint assets and joint accounts, and that the court could be called on to mediate if there is no agreement between the divorcing couple.