Friday, January 23, 2015


Prof. Gabriel Sawma

The law of marriage and divorce in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is governed by Federal law no. 28, 2005, known as Personal Status Law. Article 1 states the following:

“The provisions of this Law shall apply on citizens of the United Arab Emirates States unless non-Muslims among them have special provisions applicable to their community or confession. They shall equally apply to non-citizens unless of them asks for the application of his law.”

This means the UAE law allows a couple who have marital conflict to seek the application of their own laws before the court. This process can be easily applicable when both parties of the conflict have same nationality. In such a situation both parties may seek the application of the law at the time the marriage was contracted as stated in Article 12(1) of the UAE Civil Code, 1985.

The case becomes complicated when each party to the marital conflict has different nationality. The Personal Status Law does not address this topic; however, we can find a remedy in the Civil Code of 1985. Article 13(1) of the Code states the following:

“The law of the state of which the husband is a national at the time the marriage is contracted shall apply to the effects on personal status, and the effects with regard to property, resulting from the contracting of the marriage.”

It is important to note that U.S. citizens who marry UAE should know that the law of the husband applies to the rules of divorce, not the law of the wife’s state. This is confirmed by article 14 of the Civil Code which states that “. . . if one of the spouses is a national at the time the marriage is contracted, the law of the United Arab Emirates alone shall apply. . .”

It is also important to note that the Civil Code of the United Arab Emirates is based on the principles of Islamic Sharia. Thus a woman marrying a UAE national will be subject to the rules of Islamic law in matters related to divorce and custody of the children, even though she kept her non-Muslim faith during the marriage. This topic will be covered by another article on this website.

The Personal Status Law of the United Arab Emirates does not prohibit a Muslim man from marrying a Christian or Jewish woman as we mentioned earlier.  But on the other hand, a Muslim man is allowed to marry up to four wives at the same time. This means that, even though he is married to a Christian or Jewish wife, he can still marry up to four wives.

Under the law of Islam, children born of mixed marriages, involving a Muslim man and non-Muslim woman are considered Muslims. The religion of children born of a Muslim father, always follow the religion of the father. It does not matter even if the child is baptized in the Christian faith, he is still and will always be regarded as Muslim, and is governed by Islamic Shari’a.

Marriages between UAE nationals and foreign-born wives are more likely to end in divorce. According to some accounts, the UAE has the highest divorce rate in the Gulf region; in 2005, it reached 46 percent. While women, who are UAE nationals, receive financial aid from the government after divorce, women are not eligible for such aid.
In the event of divorce, or death of the husband, a Christian or Jewish woman married to a UAE national, the wife will lose her custody to her children. This is based on Islamic jurisprudence which says, a person outside the religion of Islam is not qualified to have custody of Muslim children.

Foreign women married to national citizens are not free to leave the country with their children; their children must remain in the UAE unless the court decides otherwise. Islamic Shari’a does not allow a divorce wife to travel outside the country with the children without permission of the husband or a court order. If the husband is dead, the wife can leave the country with the children only if the guardian of the children, who has been appointed by the father before his death, or a guardian who has been appointed by a judge, permits the wife to travel with the children. If such permission is not granted, the wife might have to leave the country without the children. U.S. law cannot force a foreign country to bring the children back to the United States.

A Christian or Jewish woman who is married to a Muslim citizen of the UAE should know that if the husband travels with the children to his country and decides to stay there with the children, she is not afforded protection of U.S. law to bring the children back to the United States. For example, if the husband, who is national of UAE travels with his wife and their children to his country, and then chooses to stay in UAE with the children, the wife may not be able to bring her children back to the United States. The law of UAE will not allow the wife to bring back her children to the U.S. without permission of the husband.
Furthermore, she may not be able to stay in the United Arab Emirates since her status as resident is based on her husband’s sponsorship. If the husband withdraws his sponsorship, she would be subject to deportation without being able to bring her children with her. There is no guarantee that she will be able to obtain an entry visa to that country in the future.

Under Islamic Shari’a, if a non-Muslim woman married to a non-Muslim man decides to convert to Islam, the marriage is suspended until her husband converts too. In theory, she could leave the non-Muslim husband and marry a Muslim man. This is perfectly legal under Islamic law, and it has a reference in the Qur’an, which reads: “O ye who believe [Muslims], when there come to you believing women refugees, examine them. Allah knows best as to their faith; if you ascertain that they are believers [Muslims], then do not send them back to unbelievers [non-Muslims]. They are not lawful [wives] for the unbelievers, nor are [the unbelievers] lawful [husbands] for them.” (Qur’an 60: 10)

If a non-Muslim husband converts to Islam, a new marriage is not needed. He can marry up to four wives at one time.

Under the rules of Islamic Shari’a, a daughter inherits half of her brother’s shares. When a husband dies, the widow inherits one-eighth of his assets if he has children. If he dies childless, the wife inherits one-fourth. The rest of his assets are passed on to the husband’s closest relatives. If no son is born of the marriage, daughters alone cannot inherit all the assets of their parents; in such a case, part of the assets goes to the sons of the father’s brother.

However, a non-Muslim woman marrying a Muslim man from the United Arab Emirates does not inherit anything if the husband dies unless she is mentioned in his will as a beneficiary. Such a will cannot be valid if its purpose is to deny a legitimate person from getting his or her share under Islamic law.

In the event of divorce, the wife does not share in the marital assets. The only amount of money she receives is the mahr as stipulated in the marriage contract. It is therefore very important for a woman who is embarking on marrying a male citizen of the United Arab Emirates to pay attention to the amount of mahr when she signs the marriage contract. Islamic Shari’a does not entitle the wife to share the assets of her husband no matter how diligent she was in protecting and promoting the family business.

You have to remember too that the husband is allowed to marry three other women. This tactic is often used by the husband to avoid divorcing his wife, since divorcing her would make him liable to the mahr. On the other hand, if the wife seeks divorce through khul’, she forfeits her mahr.

I suggest that a woman looking to marry a Muslim man to do further research about her rights and obligations under Islamic law. For more on this topic please read our articles listed on this website:

DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce and custody of children, Hindu marital disputes in U.S. courts, and Iran divorce in USA.
Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law and Islamic law; Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in US Courts and Canada. Expert Consultant on Hindu divorce in U.S. courts and Iranian divorce in USA.
Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; former Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.
Prof. Sawma lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State and wrote many affidavits to immigration authorities, Federal Courts, and family State Courts in connection with recognition of Islamic foreign divorces in the U.S., Hindu divorces, and Iranian marital conflicts.
Taught Islamic Finance for MBA program at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Travelled numerous times to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the Arabian Gulf States, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and wrote extensively on Islamic and Hindu divorces, custody of children in USA and abroad, and abduction of children to Muslim countries.
Speaks, reads and writes several languages including Arabic, English, French and others
Interviewed by:

Contact Information:

Tel. (609) 915-2237

For more information on marriage, divorce and custody of children in the United Arab Emirates, please visit our websites at the following links:

For more information on the author, please see Curriculum Vitae at this link:


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