The Question: Which Law Applies in Family Matters?

Many foreigners living in the UAE are confused about which law would apply in the event of a family law issue. And the answer is not always clear cut, as the country has both federal and national laws that apply. Each of the seven emirates governs itself, but federal laws apply equally within those emirates; while legal precedents are set by the Court of Cassation in Abu Dhabi. In some cases non-Muslim expatriates can request laws from their home countries be applied within the UAE courts, in accordance with the Law of Civil Transactions 1985. Here are some of the main principles that apply if non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE wish to invoke the laws of their own countries

  • Article 13: The law of the state in which the husband is a national at the time the marriage is contracted, may apply to personal status and the division of property, resulting from the contracting of the marriage.
  • Article 16: Substantive matters relating to guardianship, trusteeship, and maintenance or other systems that exist to protect those without competence are governed by the law of the person requiring to be protected – i.e. law from the child’s native country may apply to child maintenance.
  • Article 18: Possession, ownership and rights over property may be governed by the law of the country where the property is located in.
  • However, these laws are infrequently applied due to a number of reasons such as:
    • It requires translation into Arabic, a difficult and time-consuming process.
    • Laws from foreign countries must abide by the UAE’s standards of public order, morals and Shariah law.
    • Interpretation may be difficult.
    • If the case involves a dual UAE-foreign national citizen, the UAE law would be applied.
    • Each party may seek the laws of their own citizenship be applied; therefore both parties may need to agree on the application of foreign law.
  • In general, the Courts of First Instance (the lowest tier of the court) have jurisdiction over family cases filed against citizens or foreigners living in the UAE, in accordance with Article 5 of the Personal Status Law and Article 20 of the Civil Procedure Law.

If you have a question that relates to a similar query or any other matter of Family Law, please contact us.


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