Civil Marriage for Muslims in UAE
Tim Elliot: Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and only, regular legal podcast. My name’s Tim Elliot. I’m here with the Managing Partner of the Dubai-based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, here in Dubai. Ludmila Yamalova. It’s good to see you again.
Ludmila Yamalova: Good to be here with you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: Now today, Ludmila, we have done a couple of podcasts on civil marriages in the past, and we are doing a new one today. It’s big news. Civil marriages. If you are Muslim in the U.A.E., you can now get married in a civil ceremony at the Abu Dhabi civil family court.
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. It is a big news. As you succinctly summarized it, Muslims in the U.A.E. can now actually opt for a civil marriage, that is, as long as they are not U.A.E. nationals. They can do this through the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department or ADJD, and in particular, in the Abu Dhabi civil family court. A little bit of history in terms of how this came to be, by way of reminder, and we have talked about this in previous podcasts, at the end of 2021 Abu Dhabi introduced its own specific law which was previously called – I think it was Civil Marriages for Non Muslim Expats. If my memory serves me right, I think that particular law was law #14 of 2021, came in the end of October or November of 2021. Then only about a month later, in mid-December of 2021, the name of that law was changed, and so were some provisions, so literally just a month later, the non Muslim and expat terms were taken out and then the name of the law became Civil Marriages and Its Effects. On other words, the previous, not just draft, the previous version of the law that referred to non Muslims and expats, those phrases and those terms were taken out, and this became – I guess perhaps it was logical because at that point in time also the U.A.E. had amended its citizenship law, ultimately allowing perhaps for more categories of people to apply for U.A.E. nationality, which meant at that point in time and perhaps in the future that the more U.A.E. nationals who are not Muslims, so that is why limiting it to expats would be unfair to those U.A.E. nationals who are not Muslims. That is why that particular term was taken out of the law. This is obviously my own speculation. I wasn’t behind the scenes and drafting the law or amending it, but certainly that is my analysis or interpretation of the events. Also, somehow in the process the non Muslim term was also taken out, which back then just gave us a lot of pause and a lot of scratching of our heads. Does this mean what we think it means? Does this mean that these sort of civil services or civil marriages and resulting services will become available to Muslims of the U.A.E.? While the language of the law did not specifically make it very clear that Muslims can also avail themselves of these services, there were no more limitations in the law as were in the previous or the original version, to these services and this law applying only to non Muslims. Furthermore, there was a provision in terms of who can avail themselves of these services. There were whole categories or a list of who can avail, the non Muslims, and so on and so forth, but then there was a last catchall of whoever else wants to benefit from basically this civil law. That, once again, we are also scratching our heads thinking, does that mean what we think it means? Now, it has been about a year and a half since the law was introduced. Since this particular law is Abu Dhabi law, and it is governed by and under the umbrella of ADJD, when you go on the ADJD website – remember the law doesn’t specifically state the service is available or this law is available for Muslims – now when you go on the ADJD website for these specific services, and that is the civil marriage itself or the wills, it actually clearly is on the website. It says that this service is available for Muslims. There is a bit of a difference here because as lawyers, we obviously want to rely on what it’s in the law. The law does not clearly state this is available for Muslims, but equally so, it does not exclude Muslims as was the case before, but the Abu Dhabi court website that makes these services available and through which you apply for these services clearly states that Muslims can avail themselves of these services. That scratching of our heads originally has basically, we’re like, could this be what we think it is? It has now been confirmed. It actually is exactly what we were secretly perhaps hoping for, only because I have been practicing law in the U.A.E. for almost 15 years now and we have seen over the years there have been so many requests from Muslims, non U.A.E. nationals, lets say Muslims from the U.K., from France, from the U.S., who wanted to either have a civil marriage or have a will. The answer was always, well, as long as you’re Muslim in the U.A.E. you are considered as Muslim and therefore, you are subject to the U.A.E. personal status law which was based on principles of Sharia, and therefore as a Muslim, in short, you cannot vary that. That’s how things used to be, but this is our speculation and prediction of what the purpose or objective of this law was going to be for the time being has proven true. Now, for purposes of Muslims wanting to get married in a civil ceremony, it is now possible. As per this, not just the law itself, but as ADJD’s own express instructions, civil marriages are now available for Muslims except the U.A.E. nationals. That service is not available for U.A.E. nationals, and that is also pretty specifically stated on the website. Now all Muslims can avail themselves of the civil marriage ceremony and services much the same way as these services are available for non Muslims.
Tim Elliot: So, no more lawyers scratching their heads. I think it is a good sign when a lawyer is not scratching their head because you’ve got something there written down that is explicit, and you can refer to. Also, your legal knowledge, Ludmila, as ever, is so impressive. It is Law #14 of 2021. It is Civil Marriages and Its Effects in the emirate of Abu Dhabi as well. Kudos for getting that exactly right, I have to say.
Ludmila Yamalova: I remember the evolution of that law. That’s why. I even remember the dates. It was like November or December. Just within one month the law was so substantively changed. It was really impressive, and it was very hopeful. I’m glad that our hopes are coming true.
Tim Elliot: It’s the case here, isn’t it? So much has changed, so much has progressed, in very recent times. Let’s talk a little bit more about civil marriages, what you need to do, how you apply, the ins and outs.
Ludmila Yamalova: One is, and we have talked about this in previous podcasts, one of the big benefits of perhaps most court services in the U.A.E. now, but certainly for the purposes of ADJD, is that everything is done online through the ADJD website. Now, you don’t need to set up your own separate court portal, as perhaps you may need to do with other courts, like the Dubai courts being one example. You log into ADJD through your U.A.E. Pass and once you have logged in, you will see a service that is basically for civil marriages and you apply for that service, basically a civil marriage. Now, the only documents you need to submit is basically your identification documents and, if you want to have a prenuptial agreement, you can also submit that, but it’s optional. If there was a previous divorce or previous marriage in the couple, then they can also submit those documents that the marriage is no more either by virtue of a divorce decree or a death certificate, for example. That is basically it.
Now, this has another perhaps significant benefit for Muslims because previously for Muslims to get married in the U.A.E., they were always required, in addition to all of the identification documents and such, they were always required to have guardian approval and medical tests. Those requirements were not present for non Muslims getting married in the U.A.E., for example, through religious ceremonies, but those two requirements were always present for all Muslims getting married in the U.A.E. While medical tests are not perhaps such a big deal, but with regards to getting guardian approval, it was a fairly significant issue for many whose guardians don’t live in the U.A.E., because remember, this applies to Muslim residents of the U.A.E. who are not nationals, which means expats. If you’re an expat, for many Muslims, they don’t necessarily have families living here close by, i.e., they don’t necessarily have their fathers living here. For Muslims, for a woman in particular, to get married, she would have needed to have, by default, father’s approval, father’s presence, for the marriage. For many people, that was not an option because their parents were not here or could not fly here so easily. This is a huge benefit for all those Muslims who perhaps find themselves in these situations because here, under the ADJD, you don’t need to present your guardian’s approval, so therefore, your father does not need to be there. Obviously, you can invite whoever you want to invite, but certainly their approval and their signoff and presence for the marriage itself is not required, which is a huge benefit. Once you submit your application, then the ADJD will send a link or a confirmation that they have received your application. You also have to pay a fee. It is 300 dirhams for a simple application, but if you want it expedited, it is 2,500 dirhams. Then you will receive confirmation from ADJD that they have received your application, and you can actually request your wedding date, which date you want to get married, but ultimately subject to the confirmation by ADJD. Then they follow up within a few days after you have submitted your application. They will follow up with actually the exact date when you can come and administer your marriage. That, by the way, for the time being, still happens in a physical form, so you actually need to travel to the ADJD or to Abu Dhabi and present yourself to ADJD to have your civil ceremony conducted in the presence of the authorities and the judges and representatives there. Unlike, for example, the registration of wills where it is all done online, for purposes of civil marriage, you still need to physically be present. It is perhaps not a bad thing because it is a big life decision. Then you get a confirmation of when the appointment is set, and then you arrive on the day of the appointment with the confirmation from ADJD that your application has been submitted and the appointment date and also a copy of your application, your original documents, obviously with your partner, with your spouse to be, and also you can even invite your guests. They just need to present their identification documents and it’s a fairly quick process. It happens at ADJD. You sign the documents and then shortly thereafter you receive your marriage certificate.
Now for Muslims in particular, the marriage certificate, by the way, is issued by Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, so it is issued by the official authority.
Tim Elliot: So, this is an automatically attested document, if you like, isn’t it?
Ludmila Yamalova: For purposes of the U.A.E., for sure. Now it is advised, in particular for Muslims, to also take that certificate and attest it by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the U.A.E. or MOFA, which is a very easy and more administrative process. But it is advisable to do so. It is just another stamp of approval, especially for Muslims, because it is such a new service, and also that would for the future, whenever you want to use the certificate in other jurisdictions, or for other purposes, having the U.A.E. MOFA stamp would be just an added benefit.
Tim Elliot: Yeah. Okay. I think that pretty much covers it really. Is there anything we’ve missed? Any other points that you think are relevant that you would like to make?
Ludmila Yamalova: No. I think that we have covered it all. I just want to re-emphasize the importance of the groundbreaking idea or notion of this option now being available in the U.A.E., how far we have moved and how fast we have moved. As I mentioned earlier, I have been here for so long and I have had so many requests over the years of people wanting to have a civil marriage. Also, one more important thing is that what ends up happening, because remember the law is called Civil Marriages and Its Effects, so therefore, in the event, for example, of divorce in the future, or issues of custody and guardianship, or inheritance, now by definition a couple that got married under ADJD and under this Law #14, they are subject, their relationship and it is called the effects of the marriage, so the relationship is governed by this law. In other words, let’s say in the event of a divorce, which law would apply to the divorce? Because in the past, and we know so many people in the U.A.E. who are of different nationalities, different religions, different ethnicities, and their kids can have, even yet, different passports in addition to that. In the event of the divorce, a big question was always, which law applies to the divorce? Is it the law of the husband? Is it the law of the mother? Is it the law of the U.A.E.? Also, don’t forget, a lot of people here have multiple citizenships. Is it the law of where they got married? Or is it the law of where they live now? Or one of the other parties? There are so many different laws that could have applied in the past and used to be argued often, the particular idea, but now if you get married under ADJD, you are governed by this law, so therefore your divorce is governed, and the law is pretty substantive in terms of detail and what happens in the division of assets. Similarly, with regard to guardianship, the same thing. If you get married under ADJD, in the event of a divorce, the law itself is very specific, the guardianship, for example, is split 50/50. If you choose to have a civil marriage, even if you are Muslims, then under this law when you decide to divorce, your divorce would be subject to the same law, which means the guardianship will be 50/50 and the mother has and the father has 50/50 custody, unlike what would normally happen if the U.A.E. personal status law applied to Muslims when divorcing, and similarly for inheritance. This is important. Basically, once you choose to get married under ADJD, you no longer need to argue, it should be the law of Lebanon versus U.S. or Australia versus France, for example, or whatever multiple nationalities or citizenships that you may hold. You have now one law that applies to not just the marriage, but all the other effects of the marriage.
Tim Elliot: That is another edition of Lawgical, civil marriages for Muslims in the U.A.E. and it is now possible. As ever, thanks for watching, listening, or both. Thanks to our legal expert, the Managing Partner at Yamalova & Plewka, Ludmila Yamalova.
Ludmila Yamalova: My pleasure.
Tim Elliot: You can find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn. Our podcasts are free at LYLawyers.com. To have a legal question answered in a future episode of Lawgical or to talk to a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click the Contact button at LYLawyers.com.