UAE Federal Onshore jurisdiction – updates to Civil Family Law for non-Muslims
On 3 October 2022 , the President of the United Arab Emirates issued the Federal Decree Law No. 41 of 2022 on the civil personal status law for non-Muslims (“Civil Family Law” or “CFL”).
The CFL is a major amendment to the existing framework for family matters and is intended to provide non-Muslim couples the right to enter into a civil marriage contract without a religious ceremony. The CFL recognizes such civil contracts between a man and a woman and grants the UAE authorities the power to register civil marriages.
Prior to the decree of the CFL, the Federal Personal Status Law No. 28 of 2005 determined the rights of all parties under probate, succession, divorce and family disputes as well custody. The previous regime left much to be said for non-Muslim rights and procedures.
Under the CFL, a civil marriage would not require divorce proceedings to be commenced in the family mediation centre which was the previous procedure for all families. The CFL also recognizes equality between men & women in matters of testimony, inheritance, right to seek divorce and custody. The CFL does not require the Courts to issue culpability findings and does not require attribution of blame under divorce proceedings and also recognizes proof of parentage through acknowledgment of the father and the mother.
Under the CFL, inheritance & succession can be determined entirely in accordance with the wishes of the testator, which right existed under the previous law with various registries in the UAE for deposit of non-Muslim wills & testament however a key change under the CFL is that the law automatically distributes half of the estate to the spouse and the remainder to the children in equal shares (sons & daughters) in case of an intestacy where a non-Muslim has not declared his wishes in a last will & testament. Comparing this to the previous position under the law, there was an automatic presumption that Shariah Law would be applied.
The CFL is certainly a major amendment to the family law in the UAE and is particularly important for non-Muslim families in the UAE. The CFL goes into force on 1 February 2023, with Executive Regulations to be issued under the CFL in the coming months.