• ARP Law Group

Abu Dhabi - New family law for expats


On 7th of November, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates issued amendments to the personal status law in essence decreeing the Abu Dhabi family law (“AFL”) which would be applicable to non-Muslim residents of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.


The purpose of AFL is to revamp the personal status legislation in the emirate and bring Abu Dhabi in line with international practices and bolster the emirate’s position as a destination for talent and investment.

The AFL moves away from the previous position under the UAE Federal Personal Status law as it successfully addresses a number of key concerns, among others, for non-Muslims including civil marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance for non-Muslims.


Key changes brought under the AFL:

  • the AFL permits civil marriage between non-Muslims which can be registered in the UAE;

  • provide gender equality between men and woman, particularly with regards to issues on divorce, inheritance, custody and taking of any testimonies in Court;

  • a specialist court will be established to hear disputes relating to non-Muslim affairs;

  • non-Muslim foreigners will be able to apply foreign law on matters of divorce;

  • parties can obtain divorce without either party having to accept fault;

  • in the absence of a will, half the estate would go to the spouse and rest distributed equally between the children of the deceased irrespective of the gender.


These are but a few of the changes brought about by the AFL, the changes are a positive development and a first of its kind in the region. The purpose of the new law is to promote Abu Dhabi’s position as an international city and entice global talent. We expect more legislative amendments and reforms to come in Abu Dhabi as well as other Gulf states and neighbouring cities as they would be inclined to pass similar legislation to keep pace with the reforms and improve UAE’s overall offering as an international destination.