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Home Secretary announces review of application of Sharia Law

Theresa May has commissioned a comprehensive review of the application of Sharia Law and the operation of Sharia Courts here in the UK. There are increasing concerns with regards to the operation of such courts in the Muslim communities. Sharia Law principles can be discriminatory, particularly against women, leaving them significantly disadvantaged both financially and in relation to the children on divorce.

What couples do not realise is that by moving to live in countries such as Dubai they can find themselves caught by Sharia Law/Local Law principles even if the parties are non Muslim.

We are dealing with a number of cases in which wives are having to apply to the English Courts for permission to apply for financial relief under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. They aim to seek to redress unfairness (often significant) caused by divorce and financial remedy proceedings taking place in the UAE.

Even in circumstances where parties are UK nationals and/or have their domicile of origin in England, husbands are often quick to issue divorce proceedings, in Dubai, following the breakdown of a marriage. Cunning husbands will issue proceedings in the “Personal Status” system, in the UAE, the legal basis of which is developed from traditional Sharia Law principles. If the responding wives are not aware that there is a provision for non Muslim expatriates to seek to apply the relevant laws of their home country, (which in any event cannot be guaranteed) then Sharia Law will prevail.

In those circumstances, if children are over a certain age the husband automatically has “custody” of the children with often catastrophic consequences for the children and their mother. It can be even worse in circumstances where the mother remains custodian of the child/ren until a certain age and then the children have to move across to the custody of their father. Women’s right to custody of the children ends when a boy reaches the age of 11 and a girl 13. British women living in Dubai often find themselves homeless upon divorce, where assets are held in the sole name of the husband. Forming a physical relationship with a third party is a criminal offence and women are often left with no capacity to work.

From a financial point of view the Court in Dubai has no power to make orders, in favour of the wife, in relation to property, cars, bank accounts or pensions, in the sole name of the husband.

The wife’s claims are limited to modest awards for ‘marriage compensation’ and fixed term maintenance. It is only if she secures custody of the children that she would be entitled to additional awards to assist her with housing, transport and childcare costs.

It is therefore important that women, in particular, moving to countries such a Dubai, do this with their eyes open and with proper legal advice ideally before they go but also immediately upon divorce -both here and in the UAE jurisdiction as supplementary provision here in England is far from guaranteed.

Key Contact

Clare Wiseman