Swiss Group, the Dubai-based business consultancy experts, here explain the recent sweeping changes to personal status – encompassing divorce, custody, marriage and inheritance
A recent update on ‘Personal Status Matters’ came into effect in early February 2023 – another example of the rapidly evolving legal framework in the UAE.
Federal Decree-Law on Personal Status matters for Non-Muslims (Law No. 41 of 2022) is similar to a law already issued in Abu Dhabi (Law No.15, 2021), but this new federal legislation is applicable across the UAE.
The latest raft of updated laws demonstrates the UAE’s mission to make the nation more attractive for individuals, families, tourists and foreign investors – by aligning personal status matters more with international standards. The new Law only applies to non-Muslim citizens of the UAE and to non-Muslim foreigners who reside in the UAE.
The changes bring clarity to several areas, specifically relating to ex-pats and foreigners, including greater gender equality when providing court testimonies, the right to file for (no-fault) divorce, distribution of deceased person’s assets and child custody.
One noteworthy amendment is replacing the Hijri calendar with the Gregorian calendar to determine time, in line with western norms.In more detail, and to help you understand and navigate the new law, here, we explain some key points.
As of February 1, 2023, divorce cases are excluded from referral to family guidance committees, which used to be a prerequisite. Now, cases can be referred directly to the court to issue a judgement at the first session.
The new law introduces the concept of "no-fault" divorce. This may be granted if either spouse expresses, before the court, their desire to terminate the marriage without being required to justify or demonstrate any wrongdoing during their marriage.
So, where both spouses agree, a divorce could now be granted in a single hearing. The wife may apply for alimony/ maintenance, based on several factors, such as the financial status of both spouses, length of marriage, age and extent of fault, via a simple form.
Equality between men and women concerning rights and duties is paramount; a woman’s testimony before the court is now officially declared to be as valid as a man's testimony without discrimination. Both men and women may seek divorce from the court and are equal in the right to joint custody of a child until the child reaches the age of 18 after which they have freedom of choice.
The new law will allow non-Muslim couples to marry in a non-Sharia legal process (even applying the home country law), provided certain conditions are met, such as both parties being at least 21-years-old, and both are required to complete a declaration form in the presence of a judge. The law specifically mentions that marriage cannot be between siblings, children, grandchildren or uncles, and any other cases specified by related executive regulations.
Authorities are expecting a rush of ex-pat marriages now the law stipulates wedlock can occur with a simple civil court ceremony. Previously, marriage was considered so complex that many ex-pats chose to marry in their home countries.
The law now stipulates that non-Muslim couples can now marry “based on the will of both the husband and wife” - consent from the wife’s father or guardian is no longer mandated.
The concept of joint custody is introduced by the new law for children under 18.
In any dispute on matters relating to children, either parent may now approach the court for intervention. However, the court will have wide discretionary powers and make its decisions based on the child’s best interests.
Before the new law, the mother was usually allocated custody of young children, with the expectation that custody will move to the father once the child reaches the age of 11 for a boy or 13 for a girl.
Proof of paternity is now based on marriage or recognition of paternity, with DNA tests conducted where paternity is unknown.
The law addresses inheritance and wills through a new lens. For example, non-Muslims are now allowed to register a will upon registering their marriage. A will should stipulate who the beneficiary is, now regardless of gender. Law No. 41 provides reassurance that a will’s terms will be upheld in relation to UAE-based assets.
In terms of distribution, should there be no will for the deceased on-Muslim UAE citizen or non-Muslim UAE resident, the new law stipulates that 50% of their estate should be inherited by a surviving spouse, with the remainder distributed equally between the deceased’s surviving children, again, regardless of gender.
When there is no spouse and children, the estate will be divided equally between any surviving parents. If there is only one surviving parent, the estate will be distributed equally between that parent and any surviving siblings. If both parents have passed, the estate will be divided equally among surviving siblings.
One notable point is that the new inheritance law is more attuned to gender equality than previously.
Swiss Group welcomes these changes, which bring greater peace of mind to families, individuals and investors in the UAE. Please find further details in our brochure on Inheritance in the UAE.
The UAE’s rapidly evolving framework of legislation, trusts and local companies now facilitate more sophisticated estate planning, while ensuring assets – both local and international – are appropriately structured and preserved for future generations.
If you’d like to know more about investment opportunities in the UAE, do reach out to our team of experts, located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, as well as in Zurich, Switzerland.
New era for employees
Meanwhile, a shake-up of the labour law is now also underway, strengthening workers’ rights with a clear declaration of six different work models and twelve types of work permit.
The six work models are conventional full-time work, remote work, shared jobs, part-time, temporary and flexible employment contracts.
Full-time work means working for one employer for a full work day, while part-time work is defined as working for one or more employers for a specified number of hours or days.
Remote work covers full- and part-time employees working completely or partially outside the office - should their work allow it.
Under the shared job model, companies are now allowed to split job responsibilities and pay among more than one employee, now covered by part-time job regulations.
Temporary work encompasses contracts for specific periods, or projects, while new flexible work rules allow employees the freedom to work at different times, based on contracts covering hours, days and duties.
New student training permits cover training and employment of teenagers over 15 by ministry-registered establishments.
Ministry permits are required to employ Emirati citizens, citizens of GCC countries and Golden Visa holders.
Independent business permits now enable residents to work on their own visas without the need for sponsorship or employer contracts.
Other permits cover employing people from outside the UAE, temporary work permits, transferring employment between company facilities and for non-citizens sponsored by family members.
Another new element of the law which brings the UAE into international parity is the January 2023 introduction of social security.
Applicable to all public and private sector employees (however not to employees employed by a UAE free zone company), the scheme provides insurance against loss of employment, split into two brackets – for those earning less than AED16,000 per month, and those earning above that threshold.
Those earning less than AED16,000 will be liable to pay AED5 per month into the scheme, while those on more than AED16,000 are required to pay AED10 per month.
Compensation – equivalent to three months’ payments of up to 60% of the monthly salary - is then forthcoming for those who have paid into the scheme for at least 12 months, but those who have resigned, been fired for disciplinary reasons, start a new job or leave the country will not be eligible to receive payment.
The wide range of visas now available makes entering, working and living in the UAE easier than ever before. Still, the wide variety warrants a separate article – covered here.
Having had a presence in the UAE since the early 1970s, Swiss Group is fully conversant with UAE laws and the rapidly changing current environment. We are here to serve you with professional insight and a wide range of expert business services, to ensure your life, investment and work in the UAE are as smooth as possible.