Sharia Series: Marriage And Divorce In Dubai
The Office of National Statistics reported that in the year ending June 2023, 508,000 British nationals had emigrated out of the UK long term (a huge increase of 37,000 from the year ending June 2022). Of course, this increased statistic means that many British nationals may settle in their new domicile, meet someone and build a relationship.
International romances bring with them interesting legal considerations, which country should the couple marry in, divorce in, deal with their assets in? Of course, many countries have very differing laws and therefore it is important that British nationals in that position consider the laws of both England and Wales and of the jurisdiction that they have now settled in to compare and contrast.
In these circumstances, as a standard the following should always be considered, regardless of the country that the British national has migrated to:
- Will this marriage comply with the requirements to be considered a valid marriage in England and Wales?;
- What are the matrimonial regimes/laws of the applicable jurisdictions;
- Is a prenup necessary and enforceable, in both jurisdictions?
One particular country which has seen an exponential rise in British nationals immigrating to is the United Arab Emirates, with 240,000 British nationals currently settled in Dubai. With this rise, there is a lot of confusion and incorrect information online which parties need to be aware of.
Marriage in Dubai
Non - Muslims
Dubai offers a civil marriage service, for non-Muslim residents. A couple can obtain a wedding licence in 24 hours and the marriage that takes place will subsequently comply with Federal Decree Law No. 41 of 2022 on Civil Personal Status for Non-Muslims.
The bride must give her approval for the marriage to take place and the parties must have a positive pre-marital screening certificate issued by the public healthcare facilities available.
Marriages can also take place at the embassy or consulate of a persons nationality in the UAE or religious setting such as a temple or church with registration to follow.
As this type of marriage would be compliant with the necessary laws to be valid in the jurisdiction, the courts of England & Wales would recognise it to be a valid marriage. Therefore, if a British national in this type of marriage were to be domiciled or habitually resident in England & Wales at the time of the breakdown of the marriage, they could look to issue divorce proceedings in England & Wales.
If both parties to the marriage are Muslim, or the groom is Muslim the parties must enter into an Islamic marriage. The marriage contract (Nikkah contract) will be registered at the Sharia court. The bride will need to attend with her father, or a proxy and two male Muslim witnesses.
Again, this type of marriage is recognised as valid and legal in the jurisdiction of the UAE and therefore will be recognised in the courts of England & Wales.
Divorce in Dubai
For non Muslims in Dubai, the starting point is Federal Law 41 (2002). This law allows either the husband or the wife to file for divorce. The other party will be notified of the divorce and the divorce will be pronounced 30 days later, if no appeal is lodged during that period of time.
Financial provisions can be ordered by the court for spousal maintenance for a wife from her ex-husband (not applicable for husbands to claim from wives.) Child maintenance can also be made as a financial provision, along with some capital claims on jointly owned properties.
The parties may also apply the law of their home country if agreed or successful in applying to do so as mentioned above.
For the divorce process, the husband can pronounce talaq to divorce the wife for the divorce to initiate, or the wife can by way of either talaq I tafweez if applicable or the Khullah or Faskh processes. More on these here: Sharia Series; talaq, talaq, talaq – a triple threat? A look at the validation of Islamic divorce. (irwinmitchell.com)
There is a three month Iddah period following Talaq being pronounced, a time for reflection and if possible reconciliation. During this time it continues to be mandatory for a Muslim man to provide financially for his wife, basic expenses including providing a home, clothes and food.
The Nikkah contract will contain information regarding the terms of the mahr (dowry) and sharia law sets out how it is to be split in the event of a divorce, depending on who petitions and the circumstances. There is legislation in the UAE, a federal law, which makes reference to agreements on the conditions relating to the financial claims in the marriage contract and therefore it is implied that a prenuptial agreement may be considered enforceable in Dubai. If the Muslim couple entered into a prenuptial agreement, this could be enforced in the UAE providing that it does not conflict with any Sharia law which is applied in the UAE.
In absence of a pre-nuptial agreement, the relevant law that applies is Personal Status Law. This allows for parties to the marriage to apply the law of the land in which the marriage was concluded as a starting point regarding the financial settlement following the divorce. Therefore, if one party to the marriage was a British national and the marriage took place in England, the laws of England and Wales relating to financial separation on divorce will be applied in the UAE courts.
This provision however does not apply if one party to the marriage is a national of the UAE.
In those circumstances, Sharia based provisions apply and the finances will be split so that each party retains what belongs to them and was purchased by them, with joint assets being shared – as a starting point.
Although a complicated, and layered area of law, it is clear to see the provisions in place in Dubai that are available for the protection of both parties, whether following Sharia law or otherwise. It is also clear to see why many parties choose to enter into a prenuptial agreement. To set out at the outset their intentions clearly regarding financial provisions. It is important for any ex-patriates to seek advice from a specialist solicitor who can consider both jurisdictions, the application of the law and weigh the client’s options up against the various laws.