Tim Elliot: Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and still the only, legal podcast, as far as we are aware. I’m Tim Elliot. Lawgical comes to you from the Jumeirah Lakes Towers based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, as ever, and here’s the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova. Nice to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Same. Always great to be talking to you. Thanks for being here, as always.
Tim Elliot: This time it’s civil marriages in Abu Dhabi. The background for this is that I guess by virtue of Abu Dhabi law #14 of 2021, the Abu Dhabi courts have introduced a registry of civil marriages on personal status for non-Muslim foreigners in the capital, and the Abu Dhabi Non-Muslim Personal Status Court was inaugurated on December 14, 2021. This is some development, isn’t it?
Ludmila Yamalova: It’s huge! Honestly. Here in the legal world, we have been celebrating all sorts of legislative amendments and developments over the last very few short months and year. But this one really just came out of left field and perhaps it’s not so surprising given the countries overall push for legislative amendments and developments and more importantly, continuing to make the country attractive for foreigners, and not just that, but continuing to introduce tools and instruments and systems that are more in line with existing residents’ dynamic. It is country where expats are a very large majority. Perhaps it’s not unexpected or unreasonable to see more provisions and more tools to be introduced to continue to make it easier for expats to continue to call this country home. But this in particular does only apply to Abu Dhabi for now, though I do have to say Dubai often follows suit very quickly, if not leads the way. I would love to see a similar one in Dubai, and we will definitely do a podcast when it does, if and when it comes out. But for now, this is just Abu Dhabi. But it is really amazing for us.
As you said, there is the law, and on the back of the law there is a new court that has developed. The law is Abu Dhabi Law #14 of 2021 on personal status for non-Muslim foreigners in Abu Dhabi. There are several things. One is, as you rightfully said, the law is very new. It just came out in December of 2021, and it does apply only to non-Muslim foreigners. But it really is now limited to Abu Dhabi only.
On the back of this law, the authorities set up a special court and a registry of civil marriages. From what we can tell, this is the first civil marriages registry that is perhaps based in the Middle East. The court that was set up on the back of this law, which is the Abu Dhabi Non-Muslim Personal Status Court, was inaugurated on December 14, 2021. What is really exciting about this court is that it is bilingual. It handles matters not just in Arabic, but in English. It truly will be not just the first personal status court that applies to non-Muslims only, but the court is equally bilingual in English and Arabic. That really is helpful and beneficial to a lot of foreigners here who do not speak Arabic.
Tim Elliot: Yes.
Ludmila Yamalova: This personal status court has jurisdiction to handle only basically matters related to personal status, such as marriages, divorces, inheritance, wills, proof of paternity, and that is basically the subject matter. Once again, it is only for non-Muslim foreigners who reside, work, or have a place of residence in Abu Dhabi. There has to be some sort of a connection to Abu Dhabi. A place of residence or place of work. It would suggest that even if you have your residency in a different emirate, but you work in Abu Dhabi, you would qualify and would have jurisdiction. That is in terms of the court itself. Any kind of personal status matters, such as marriages, divorces, custody, and such, can now be addressed in this personal status court. But before we get to that, there is this registry of civil marriages.
Before we go to the actual dispute itself, the registry of civil marriages is very exciting. That is again, for non-Muslims. Now you can basically get married and have a civil marriage and a marriage certificate that will be issued by this registry of civil marriages that is part of this personal status court.
As we have already seen in the news, apparently there was at least one Canadian couple that has already tied the know and received a civil marriage certificate. In the past, or currently non-Muslim foreigners could get married in the U.A.E., but it was always done through some religious institution. For example, for Christians, marriages would be done through a specially designated and authorized priest, the same for Hindu through their own temples, and such. While non-Muslim foreigners could and have been getting married in the U.A.E. over many years, but the underlying foundation of these marriage was always religious.
This is a registry of civil marriages, as the name suggests, is civil marriages, and this truly will be the first one. The marriage certificate is apparently issued both in English and Arabic, so this is really quite an exciting legal development.
Tim Elliot: Any conditions that we should be aware of, Ludmila?
Ludmila Yamalova: Yes. In order to have a civil marriage registered in this civil registry, there are a number of conditions that are set out in the law in Article 4. That includes that the couple must be at least 18 years old. The couple has to express before the judge their agreement and consent to the marriage. They have to sign the template disclosure form before the judge. There are restrictions that state that marriage cannot be between sisters, children, grandchildren, or uncles. Those are the conditions that are set out specifically in the law.
Tim Elliot: So, those are the conditions covered. Article 5 covers the procedures. But what is specifically covered?
Ludmila Yamalova: Foreigners can register their marriage at the station judge by submitting a request with the relevant template that will be provided to them.
Tim Elliot: Okay.
Ludmila Yamalova: Interestingly enough, there is no requirement for a medical test, which is a requirement, for example, for Muslims to get married in the U.A.E., there is always a requirement for a medical test. Here there isn’t one.
The couple must disclose to the judge any previous marriages, if there were any, with the dates of the divorce and a declaration of non-existing marriage. This is important. We actually already had questions like this on taking a second wife. Because even though in your own country it may not be legal, but here, Muslims can have more than one wife. So, we have already been approached with these kinds of questions. Can you have a second wife? But since this is not a Muslim court and is specifically for non-Muslims, there is a requirement of a declaration that you are not married. Then, if everything else is in order, the judge will just attest the civil marriage contact and basically then you have got your document to rely on, and you are not legally married. That is in terms of the marriage certificate.
Now what we find that is perhaps even more interesting, in the future when disputes come up about divorces, even for example in the context of a marriage if you wanted to register a prenuptial agreement, there is always that question. This court now gives you the option of being able to register a prenuptial agreement, and whenever you have a dispute, either about that agreement or about the terms of a divorce, or about custody, or about inheritance, now you can go directly to this court because it is specifically set up for these kinds of personal status matters and because it is also in English and it is specifically for foreigners, you can see how a lot of these cases can now be expedited and ultimately resolved – hopefully even amicably – and certainly more expeditiously.
Let’s say divorce and custody-related issues, whenever matters like this end up before the Personal Status Court in the main courts, there is always this dispute that Sharia should apply because that is what the courts know, but we are not Muslim, or one party is not Muslim and the other party is Muslim, there is a will, or no will, there is an agreement, there is no agreement, which law applies, and it is the law of the marriage certificate, or the law of one of the other spouses, or the law of the children, and so it goes. It gets actually quite complicated. It’s unfortunate because it’s already a fairly emotional and taxing matter for the people involved being spouses, and particularly when there are children involved. It can get quite nasty, and it does often get very nasty and it is just unpleasant because the circumstances are already quite difficult and having to go through the court process exacerbates the situation that much more.
Now with this court, I have a lot of confidence that a lot of these issues that now end up being battled out in courts for no good reason other than to irritate each other will no longer be on the table. It will be more streamlined and a lot more clear. It will be interesting to see how the courts will actually deciding these kinds of matters. As decisions come out, we will definitely have to do another podcast and share practical experience and examples of how to the law is being implemented in real life.
Tim Elliot: That’s another episode of Lawgical, this time civil marriages in the Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E.’s capital city that is just about 150 or so kilometers south of where we are at right now. Ludmila Yamalova is the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka and as always, our legal expert here an Lawgical. Thank you once again, Ludmila.
Ludmila Yamalova: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: You can find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, whatever your flavor is, and we’ve also now got a really easy-to-search library of hundreds of podcasts on all kinds of legal issues here in the U.A.E., and they’re all free to listen to. If you’d like a legal question answered in a future episode of Lawgical or a consultation with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, just click the Contact at LYLawyers.com.