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How to File for a Divorce in the UAE

In a previous post, we have talked about the steps for getting married in the UAE. Today, however, we will tackle just the opposite… how to file for a divorce.

Of course, nobody enters a marriage expecting to get divorced eventually. However, this is a sad reality, even in the UAE. Couples are getting divorced due to marital infidelity, financial problems, religious and cultural differences, poor communication, and other reasons that could lead to one or both persons involved to file for a divorce.

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Guide to Filing for a Divorce in the UAE

Did you know that the divorce rate in the UAE is among the highest in the region? Divorced cases involve not only Muslims, but non-Muslims as well. If you are among those whose marriage is on the rocks, here’s what you need to know about getting a divorce in the country.

Divorce Laws for Muslim Couples

Islamic marriages are governed by Sharia law, which applies if: (a) both the husband and wife are Muslims and residents of the UAE; and also if (b) the husband is a Muslim and the wife is a non-Muslim.

Divorce Laws for Non-Muslim Couples

Non-Muslims can file for a divorce in their home country or in the UAE. They can petition to have the law of their home country applied to their case — an act that is allowed based on Article 1 of Federal Law No. 28 of 2005.

Basically, this article permits relevant parties to apply their own laws to “Personal Status” matters. If both the husband and wife are from the same country, this shouldn’t be a problem.

However, the case becomes rather complicated if they come from different countries. In this case, it is the law of the husband’s home country that will be upheld, as Article 13 of the UAE Civil Code of 1985 states:

“The law of the state of which the husband is a national at the time the marriage is contracted shall apply to the effects on personal status, and the effects with regards to property resulting from contracting of the marriage.”

Steps to Filing a Divorce

If one or both parties are still decided on getting a divorce, here are the steps, as applied to Muslim and non-Muslim marriages:

  1. The case is registered at the Moral and Family Guidance Section of the Dubai Courts (for those based in Dubai).
  2. An appointed counselor will try to reconcile the divorcing parties. At this stage, both parties can raise their concerns regarding the marriage.
  3. If both parties are amicable, a settlement based on mutual understanding will be drafted and signed in front of the counselor.
  4. However, if the attempts for reconciliation fail, and one or both parties still want to get divorced, the counselor will provide a referral letter forwarding the case to the court. This letter can be submitted to the court within three months starting from the date it was issued.
  5. Once the case is in court, each party must support their claims and provide evidence. The final decision about the case is now at the court’s discretion.

Duration and Cost of Divorce

The professional fees for an amicable divorce range from around AED 8,000 to AED 12,000. Take note that this amount is separate from the financial settlement itself. The whole process can take about three to six months — or more, depending on the case.

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Custody of the Children

Under Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 for Personal Affairs, the mother is the “custodian” and the father is the “guardian” of their children. As the custodian, the mother is the one involved in day-to-day care of the children. On the other hand, the father as the guardian is responsible for providing them with food, shelter, medical care, education, and financial support.

Acting with the best interests of the children in mind, UAE courts generally keep the children in the physical custody of the mother, while being under the father’s supervision. However, once they reach a certain age (11 years old for boys and 13 years old for girls), the father can claim custody, as provided by Article 156 of Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 for Personal Affairs.

In addition, Articles 143 and 143 of the said law requires a custodian to be:

  • Honest;
  • Rational;
  • Able to raise and care for a child;
  • Mature and has attained the age of puberty
  • Healthy and free from infectious disease; and
  • Has not been sentenced for a crime of “honour.”

If the custodian is the mother, the law also states that she must:

  • Share the same religion as the child; and
  • Not remarry unless the court decides that is is in the child’s best interests.

If the custodian is the father, the law specifies that he must:

  • Share the same religion as the child; and
  • Have a suitable woman living in his home (e.g. a female relative) to care for the child.

That being said, the following rules also apply with regard to custody of the children:

  • The father may claim custody of their son if he thinks that the son is becoming too “soft” in nature while staying with the mother. The decision is up to the court judge.
  • The mother may claim custody until the son finishes his education and the daughter gets married, provided that she can prove that she is a good custodian (e.g. the children are in good health, performing well in school, etc.). The decision is up to the court judge.
  • The custodian must not travel with the child without approval from the guardian, and vice-versa. Traveling with the child without the other parent’s approval could be considered as child abduction, which could lead to serious legal consequences.
  • If either the mother or father has any concerns, he/she may obtain a travel ban preventing the child from leaving the airport. Disputes on this matter can be referred to a court judge.

DISCLAIMER: The above guide is presented for information-sharing purposes only. To know more about filing for a divorce, custody of children, and other related concerns, please visit the UAE Government Portal.

ALSO READ: Guide to Sponsoring Your Family in the UAE

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