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UAE. Equal rights for non-Muslim men and women. Marriage, divorce and childcare under civil law

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The United Arab Emirates introduces a new law on non-Muslims. In Abu Dhabi, they will be able to marry, divorce and share custody under civil law. According to the emir’s decree, a woman and a man will be equal before the law.

The new law covers civil marriage, divorce, alimony, joint custody of a child, and paternity and inheritance for non-Muslims.


As in other Gulf states throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE) family law was based on the principles of Muslim law (Sharia). Until now, non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi could marry at the appropriate embassy or church or temple, but other family law activities were regulated by Sharia courts.

According to the decree of Emir Khalifa ibn Zajed al-Nahjan, a woman and a man will be “equal before the law”, informs the Emirati daily National News. This is particularly important when applying for a divorce, as well as in matters relating to custody of children and inheritance.

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Family law for non-Muslims introduces equality between women and menVictor Jiang / Shutterstock.com

Reuters agency said “The United Arab Emirates has taken a step to maintain its competitive advantage as a regional trading center.”

The aim of the law is to “improve the emirate’s position and global competitiveness as one of the most attractive places for talent and skills,” the state agency WAM reported, identifying civil law governing non-Muslim family affairs as the first of its kind in the world “in line with international best practice.”

Changes at the federal level

Contrary to Western legal systems, the Sharia affirms the differentiation of privileges and obligations of men and women, and as a consequence, it is much more difficult for a woman in the UAE to obtain a divorce or inherit her husband (in a situation where a will has not been made).

A new court to deal with cases of non-Muslim families will be established in Abu Dhabi and will operate in both English and Arabic.

The UAE last year introduced a number of legal changes at the federal level, including the decriminalization of premarital sex and alcohol consumption and the lifting of leniency laws for so-called honor killings. These reforms, along with measures such as the introduction of long-stay visas, are seen as a way to make the country more attractive for foreign investment, tourism and long-term stay.

Main photo source: Victor Jiang / Shutterstock.com

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