Tim Elliot: Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and still the only, regular legal podcast. My name’s Tim Elliot, and I’m with the Managing Partner of the Dubai-based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, here in Dubai. Ludmila Yamalova, good to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Good to be here with you, Tim, as always.
Tim Elliot: This episode of Lawgical, Ludmila, civil marriage under Abu Dhabi’s civil family courts. Now, this is big news. You can now get married in a civil ceremony of the Abu Dhabi civil family court, can you not?
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed, we can. I guess not so much the we, because you and I are out of that game now, but certainly anyone else who wants to get married.
Tim Elliot: Out of that game now. We’re on the shelf.
Ludmila Yamalova: We are. Yes. Super high up on the shelf, outside of reach. Yes. Until about 20 – or I guess more like 2022 almost, there was not really an option in the U.A.E. to get married in a civil ceremony. There were options for non Muslims to get married in the U.A.E., but they were all religious marriages. They could have been Hindu marriages or Christian marriages or under different types of religions, but they were all ultimately done through one religious institution or the other. At the end 2021, Abu Dhabi introduced its own law and that law also opened up a new family court under the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department that offered the first, not just in the U.A.E., but in the region, civil marriages. There were two components to it. One is the law itself and two is the court, or the branch of the court, that ultimately administers or oversees civil marriages. It is Abu Dhabi Law #14 of 2021 and it is called Concerning Personal Status for Foreigners. Later it was renamed as Civil Marriages and Its Effects.
Now, as per this law, anyone who wants to get married in a civil ceremony can do so now through the Abu Dhabi family court and in particular through the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department website. What’s important to highlight, although we are talking about Abu Dhabi, at the end of the day this service is available to anyone who lives in the U.A.E. You don’t need to have any kind of connection to Abu Dhabi, and even more so, it is available for tourists. You don’t even need to be a U.A.E. resident in order to have this civil marriage through the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
I just want to make it clear that the court, the overseeing court, is what is called the ADJD, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and under it is the Abu Dhabi family court that is specifically dedicated to these kinds of matters.
Tim Elliot: Okay. This is now enshrined under U.A.E. law. It is Federal Decree #41 of 2022. A couple of interesting points to make, I think. Unlike marriages under Sharia law, civil marriages in the emirates don’t require guardian approval, and there are no medical tests as well. Is that right?
Ludmila Yamalova: It’s actually a fairly simple process. The only documents really you need to submit are your identification documents, passport, and/or emirates ID. In the event of the one of the parties, or either party, had been previously married, they need to also show proof that the previous marriage has now been dissolved. For the most part, that’s about all you are required to submit. Really and truly it is just the identification documents and, obviously in the event of a previous marriage, that. Also, there is an optional document, and that is the prenuptial agreement. Those parties who wish, as part of their marriage application, to also include a prenuptial agreement, they can also submit that. But that is basically it, as you rightfully said. Previously, if you wanted to get married through the local courts in the U.A.E., most of those – not most – all of those marriages were done under the principles of Sharia, and as part of that, some of the other requirements, in addition to the identification documents that had to be presented, there were the medical tests and most importantly the guardian’s approval. In this case, none of that is required. The only thing is you just need to show your passport, emirates ID, and show up on the day of the ceremony to sign the document.
Tim Elliot: And it’s all online. You apply online, do you not, as well?
Ludmila Yamalova: Exactly. It’s truly very modern, very 21st century, which is great news, if you think about it, because it makes it easy for people to formalize their relationship without having to travel outside and wait for months in order to get the documents processed, as was the case before. As you may recall, previously those who wanted to get married, let’s say in a nonreligious ceremony for one reason or another, or for one reason or another they wanted to get married outside of the U.A.E., they had to travel outside of the U.A.E. and then get married wherever it was they would have gotten married. Some of the more popular places previously that are close to the U.A.E. were Sri Lanka, Seychelles, perhaps also the Moriches. Those are the main ones. Then after that, those documents would have to be notarized and attested, legalized and apostilled, through the various authorities. That process alone would have taken, or used to take, about a month plus, just attestation of documents in order to be able to present them in the U.A.E. That is not to discount the time and the cost and the hassle and the nuances of actually planning a trip outside of the U.A.E. to get married and to perhaps accommodate your guests if you actually wanted to host some guests as part of your ceremony.
Now, as part of this, you are not required to leave the country. You don’t need to attest any documents because you’re getting married in the country, and so whatever documents that are resulting from this marriage basically are already U.A.E. documents, if you will, so they don’t need to go through the apostille requirements, as was the case before, and furthermore, it’s all online, truly online. The U.A.E., and I continue to say this, the U.A.E. had really taken perhaps some of the best advantages of COVID because it embraced the whole digital domain, the digital world, the e-government and the smart government, and as part of it, has made all of these services, including legal services and court services, accessible almost exclusively online.
As you rightfully said, yes, the application to apply for the civil marriage, all you need to do is go to the ADJD, which is the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. They have a website and under it there is a special service there for a civil marriage application. You go to that and submit basically. By the way, you log in through the U.A.E. Pass. This is where having the U.A.E. Pass is very important. Once you log in with the U.A.E. Pass, it’s very self-explanatory, so you don’t need to set up a separate court access, for example. You just go to the ADJD website and log in with the U.A.E. Pass. There is a special service there for a civil marriage application. Then you submit through that process. You submit documents, such as your emirates ID and a copy of the passport, and if you want, a copy of the prenuptial agreement and any previous divorce decree, if relevant. Then, that is that. Then you also pay a fee and then you wait to hear back.
Tim Elliot: What is the fee?
Ludmila Yamalova: It’s fairly accessible, if I may say so. The regular fee for the civil marriage is 300 dirhams. That is the application fee that is 300 dirhams.
Tim Elliot: That is under $100.
Ludmila Yamalova: It is about $80. Correct. There is also an option for an expedited service, an express civil marriage application, and the cost for that is a little more. It is 2,500 dirhams, so almost nine times higher, but it is an express application, so obviously those who are in a rush, this is a convenient option.
Tim Elliot: Okay. It’s interesting, because I was going to ask you the question. There is always something to consider from a legal perspective if you get married outside of the country that you’re from, particularly I guess if you spouse is from somewhere other than where you’re from, but if get married here in the U.A.E., the expats living here, for example, it kind of negates all of those issues, as you right, fly to the Seychelles, or wherever, for the wedding. There is another point here as well, if you think about it. I notice that guests are allowed at the ceremony. You have to apply with names and everything else. But you can see a time where there is a new industry coming here as well. There is kind of a wedding industry, because we all know, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the emirates, there are some amazing locations potentially for nuptials to occur. I’d imagine Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, for example, somewhere like that. There is an opportunity here.
Ludmila Yamalova: Well said, and I think well spotted. This is perhaps why the law specifically makes it available, not just to residents, but also to tourists. Yes. Not only do you not need to be based or live or work in Abu Dhabi or have any connections to Abu Dhabi, you can come from any emirate to have your civil marriage administered in Abu Dhabi, but you can also fly from anywhere in the world to do so. As you rightfully said, this presents an incredible opportunity for the tourism industry to attract people, not just to come to the civil ceremony and just get married and have that administered, but also to celebrate the event. Yes. The process for actually formalizing this relationship is once you show up to the court and send the documents and present yourselves, you can also invite your guests. All the guests need to do is present their identification documents to ADJD in order to be allowed in. Basically the civil ceremony is finished, but then you can see how from there, in the spirit of celebrating the occasion, it would be very easy from there on to transition to one of the hotels, one of the resorts, for the whole wedding party or for a bigger wedding party to actually celebrate the event in a more celebratory way because as we, I guess, speculate or perhaps as we’ve seen from other jurisdictions, generally speaking, whenever you have a civil marriage, it is less celebratory in its form because you usually appear before the authorities, you sign the documents, you present yourselves, and then basically there is not much fanfare going on. It is usually the religious weddings that have that kind of celebratory spirit, but civil marriages in general and historically, at least the administration process of the civil marriage, are usually less celebratory or festive. As you rightfully said, for this to be in Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi has so many wonderful resorts and so many great tourism destinations that you can see there is certainly an industry in the making.
Tim Elliot: If I was the manager of a seven-star offshore hotel here in Dubai and I had a helipad that Roger Federer has hit a tennis ball on, I would be designing packages now. Let’s put it that way.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed. I cannot tell you that I have been researching that particular space because I have not had the need for it, but perhaps it is already in the making. And if not, I’m sure after our podcast airs, the industry will blossom much faster.
Tim Elliot: I think that pretty much covers it really, doesn’t it? Civil marriages under Abu Dhabi’s civil family courts. That’s another edition of Lawgical. As ever, thank you for listening or watching or both. Thanks to our legal expert, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka, Ludmila Yamalova. Thanks for sharing.
Ludmila Yamalova: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: As ever, find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn. Our podcasts are all free at LYLawyers.com. If you’d like a legal question answered in an episode of Lawgical or if you’d like to talk to a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click Contact at LYLawyers.com.