Reforms made to UAE civil marriage laws 2023

11 Mar 2023
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The United Arab Emirates has made a significant stride towards legal equality and safeguarding of non-Muslim expats. As of February 1, 2023, the Federal Personal Status Law (Federal Law No. 41 of 2022) is in force, providing a comprehensive framework for crucial family affairs such as marriage, child custody, divorce, and inheritance.

Reforms to civil marriage laws

According to the state news agency WAM, reforms made to the civil marriage law will “regulate the marriage conditions and the procedures of contracting and documenting the marriage before the competent courts.” As a result, non-Muslim, expat couples can now marry via a non-Sharia legal process.

The prerequisites for marriage will include being at least 21 years of age, and the parties will be required to complete a declaration form in front of a judge. In addition, a judge must verify the validity of the civil marriage.

Since February 2022, non-Muslim couples in Abu Dhabi have been able to marry in civil court, similar to a registry office wedding in the UK or Europe. This law is now applicable across the UAE for expat, non-Muslim couples.


What is a civil marriage?

Civil marriage is a type of marriage conducted and acknowledged by civil authorities or the state, rather than religious institutions. In a civil marriage, the couple is legally bound to each other according to the state’s laws, and their partnership is recognized as a legally binding union.

A judge, justice of the peace, or other government official authorized to conduct marriages usually performs civil marriages. The state establishes the marriage requirements and the couple’s legal rights and responsibilities, which are often subject to specific laws and regulations. Civil marriages provide a secular option to religious marriages and are commonly preferred by couples who either do not want a religious wedding or come from diverse religious backgrounds.


Requirements under the new law

The terms of the contract, including the rights and responsibilities during the marriage and post-divorce, must be agreed upon by both spouses. To formalize the marriage, a form prepared by the authenticated judge must be completed and legalized by the same judge after fulfilling all conditions and procedures.

The recognition of civil marriages under the new law signifies a significant change as the UAE did not previously acknowledge them under the previous law, resulting in non-Muslim expats being susceptible to family court proceedings concerning their assets in case of a contested divorce.

The new law provides a much-needed layer of legal protection to non-Muslim expat couples. Couples desiring to marry in the UAE will now have the option of getting a civil marriage, and they can rest assured their rights are protected by the state under this newly established reform.


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Written By:Hollie.B