Historic Shift in Providing Expatriates with Greater Legal Certainty for Personal Law Matters

The UAE is already a leader in the region for matters of legal diversity. Whilst it maintains a strong judicial system and well-respected court system for corporations and businesses in jurisdictions, such as the DIFC Courts, and is becoming a pioneer in the tech and crypto sectors, personal law is the matter of greatest concern to the huge numbers of expatriates that call the UAE their home.

A new law, set to come into force on 1 February 2023, will, once again, cement the UAE’s place, as a regional leader in innovative solutions to assist its non-UAE population.

The Federal Personal Status Law will apply to non-Muslim foreigners who are resident in the UAE, and make the following sweeping changes:


According to the state news agency, WAM – the new law will “regulate the marriage conditions and the procedures of contracting and documenting the marriage before the competent courts,” whereby the non-Muslim couples can now marry in a non-Sharia process that will have legal standing.

The conditions for such a marriage are:

  • The parties to the marriage must be at least 21 years old, and
  • They will be required to fill out a declaration in front of a judge.


The new law heralds the historic change to a full “no fault” divorce regime in the UAE. As the government’s statement notes: “the procedures of divorce that can be initiated jointly or unilaterally. It organises the procedures for settling the financial claims after divorce, and the arrangement of joint custody for the children.”

In these circumstances:

  • Either spouse can initiate proceedings,
  • There is no need to provide proof of fault,
  • There will be no requirement for counselling or mediation, and
  • The Divorce may be granted after only one hearing.

With regards to custody:

  • The default position will be joint and equal custody for children under the age of 18 years,
  • Where there is a dispute as to matters of custody, the interests of the child will be paramount, and
  • If evidence is required, the testimony of a woman will be equal to that of a man.

As to matters of alimony, the court will take into account:

  • The length of the marriage,
  • The age of the wife, and
  • The financial status of both parties.

A financial expert may be appointed by the court to opine on matters of maintenance and alimony claims.


The new law will allow non-Muslim foreign nationals to register wills to bequeath their property as they wish.

In the event a will is not registered, 50% of the estate will be for the benefit of the intestate’s spouse, and the remaining 50% for the intestate’s children. Where the intestate does not have children, the remaining 50% will go to any surviving parents.

This is a major departure from the previously prevailing Sharia Law regime, that could involve distant relatives, beyond the nuclear family.

Birth Certificates

Another major reform that has been announced is the ability of children born outside of marriage to obtain a birth certificate. This includes a birth certificate without the name of the father.

These changes lead on from the major shift in January 2022, which effectively decriminalised pregnancies outside of marriage and allowed unmarried couples to officially live together.

Aventure Law provides a full suite of personal law services. Please get in touch to discuss any matters pertaining to Wills, Estates and Family Law (Divorce and Custody). We are also Trust Law experts and can guide you and your family on the benefits of using a trust structure to secure your assets and your loved ones’ financial futures.

For further information, please contact Imran Lalani (imran.lalani@aventurelaw.com) or Akshata Mandevia (akshata.mandevia@aventurelaw.com)