Abu Dhabi issues law on divorce, inheritance for non-Muslims

New rules governing divorce, inheritance and child custody set to provide ‘flexible, advanced judicial mechanism’ for non-Muslims, local media say.

The new law comes after authorities last year said they would overhaul the country’s Islamic personal laws [File: Jon Gambrell/AP Photo]

The capital of the United Arab Emirates has issued new rules governing divorce, inheritance and child custody for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, the country’s state-run news agency reported.

The report on Sunday by the WAM news agency said Abu Dhabi would create a new court to handle these cases, which will be held in Arabic and English to be better understood by the emirate’s vast foreign worker population.

Change in child custody will allow parents to share joint custody of their children, WAM reported. The law – which consists of 20 articles – also introduces the idea of civil marriage, allows wills to be drawn up granting inheritance to whomever a person chooses, and deals with paternity issues.

It is set to provide “a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims”, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said, according to The National newspaper.

Abu Dhabi is one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE and the new law affects only this sheikhdom. While the oil-rich emirate is the capital of the nation, Abu Dhabi’s population is dwarfed by that of neighbouring Dubai.

The new law comes after authorities last year said they would overhaul the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalising so-called “honour killings” – a widely criticised tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman he claims has dishonoured her family.

Previous changes

At the time, the government said the legal reforms were part of efforts to improve legislation and the investment climate in the country, as well as to consolidate “tolerance principles”.

Abu Dhabi also ended its alcohol licence system in September 2020.

Previously, individuals needed a liquor licence to buy, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licences to drink alcoholic beverages freely.

The UAE as a whole in September this year announced yet another plan to stimulate its economy and liberalise stringent residency rules for foreigners.

In January, the UAE announced it was opening a path to citizenship for select foreign nationals, who make up nearly 80 percent of the population.

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses.

The changes also reflect the efforts of the emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.

However, traditional Islamic values remain strong in the federation. The roughly one million Emiratis in the UAE, a hereditarily ruled country long criticised for its suppression of dissent, closely toe the government line.

Political parties and labour unions remain illegal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies