Equal legal rights for men and women, joint custody and the expediting of divorce procedures are some of the changes announced for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi.
The new law was issued on Sunday by President Sheikh Khalifa.
The new family law is set to provide "a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims”, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said.
The move is designed to bring Abu Dhabi in step with international practices and enhance its position as a destination for global talent.
Under the new law, spouses have the right to divorce without needing to prove harm was done in the marriage.
Joint and equal custody of children will be automatically granted to parents after divorce, with procedures in place to settle disputes.
Changes to inheritance laws for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi mean that, should a person die without a will, half of their estate will automatically go to their spouse, with the other half going to their children.
A specialised court dedicated to non-Muslim family matters has also been introduced.
All the procedures of the court will be in Arabic and English to ensure foreigners understand them and to improve judicial transparency.
The new family law comes after a series of changes were introduced in Abu Dhabi to modernise and overhaul the legal system and preserve the rights of non-Muslims, ensuring that their legal matters do not fall under Sharia.
The law consists of 20 articles divided into several chapters covering civil marriage, divorce, joint custody of children and inheritance.
Yousef Al Abri, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said the legislation dealt with the smallest details regarding the family lives of non-Muslims and reflects Abu Dhabi's legislative leadership and the global status it has achieved, he said.
Non-Muslim couples in Abu Dhabi can now marry “based on the will of both the husband and wife”, meaning consent from the wife’s guardian is no longer mandated.
Spouses no longer need to prove one party was at fault to apply for divorce. Previously, harm had to be proven or the divorce would not be granted.
Either spouse may now ask the court to end the marriage without placing blame.
Divorce can now be granted at the first hearing without the need to go to the family guidance department.
Divorcing couples will also no longer be required to go through mandatory mediation sessions.
Alimony and other subsequent requests will be submitted through a "post-divorce request form". In the case of a dispute regarding financial requests, several factors will be taken into account, including the length of the marriage, the age of the wife and the financial status of each spouse.
Alimony can be renegotiated an on annual basis, and is automatically forfeited when the wife remarries.
Custody of any children will be a joint and equal right between parents to “preserve the psychological health of the child and reduce the effects of the divorce on the child”.
In the event of a dispute over custody, the court can be asked to intervene and make a decision on the matter. The primary consideration will always be the best interests of the child.
Previously, a mother was only given custody of her son until he reached the age of 11, and her daughter until she turned 13. The father could claim custody once the child reached those ages.
The new law ensures the right of a foreigner to draw up a will giving their property to whoever they wish.
In the absence of a will, half of a person’s estate will now go to the surviving spouse. The other half will be distributed between the deceased’s children equally.
Previously, a son would obtain a larger share of the inheritance.
If the deceased has no children, the inheritance will go to their parents, or it may be split equally between one surviving parent and the deceased’s siblings.
Wills for non-Muslims should be registered during the signing of their marriage certificate.
Proof of Paternity
The new law states that proof of paternity for non-Muslims will be based on marriage or the recognition of paternity.
Modernisation of UAE law
In November last year, the UAE government embarked on one of the biggest overhauls of the legal system in years, with changes made to family law and other areas affecting people’s daily lives.
The latest changes come after several amendments to UAE laws were announced as part of the Projects of the 50, a set of ambitious initiatives that will boost economic growth and set the country on a progressive course for the next 50 years.
The UAE continues to adapt and change to accommodate its residents and keep pace with international practices.
Recent announcements have highlighted changes to visas, working regulations and the investment of billions to boost the economy and help small businesses.