Abu Dhabi plans to open new family law court for non-Emirati lawyers

Abu Dhabi is considering allowing expatriate lawyers to represent cases before a new non-Muslim family court in the capital, which would be another turning point for the legal system.

Currently, only citizens of the United Arab Emirates are allowed to act as lawyers in the courts.

The Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said it was examining the possibility of opening up access for non-Emirati lawyers to the new court, which was opened this week as part of a series of changes to the law affecting lawyers. non-Muslims in the emirate.

The department confirmed that Emirati and foreign judges would be granted the right to sit in court. He said the opening of the proceedings to expatriate lawyers was under consideration.

It makes sense to have a specialized tribunal which has its own procedure and is bound by its own rules of procedure. In some cases, family law for non-Muslims aims for much faster decisions

Dr Lena-Maria Moeller, New York University Abu Dhabi

The court will hear all matters relating to marriage, custody, divorce, paternity, inheritance and personal status.

The sessions will be conducted in Arabic and English to ensure that foreigners understand them and to improve judicial transparency.

“This is a very important step, both for the court and the law itself,” said Dr Lena-Maria Moeller, from the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg and visiting scholar at New York University in Abu Dhabi.

“Previous statistics have shown that the majority of non-Muslims, mostly foreigners, would hesitate to attend regular family courts. And if they did, they would often not use the right to enforce their own laws of their home country, and the courts themselves would be very reluctant to apply foreign law.

Non-Muslims can request that the law of their own country be used in place of Sharia, especially in matters of inheritance and divorce.

“So non-Muslim couples would go to local courts and have their marriage and divorce regulated by Islamic law and those who can afford to return home frequently would move to have their family affairs regulated in the country of origin.” “, Dr Moeller. noted.

“The new law is a fantastic opportunity for various non-Muslim communities to have a place here where their family affairs can not only be regulated, but also judged and governed by a law with which many families are likely to feel more closely connected than the family. Islamic law. inspired law.

She said a dedicated court for non-Muslims would lead to faster justice.

“It might make it easier because the procedures are so different. So I think it makes sense to have a dedicated tribunal that has its own procedure and is bound by its own rules of procedure. In some cases, family law for non-Muslims aims for much faster decisions.

The move is part of new legislation introduced last month to better support expatriates in the emirate, designed to align Abu Dhabi with international practices and strengthen its position as a destination for global talent.

Joint and equal custody of the children will automatically be granted to the parents after the divorce, with procedures in place to resolve disputes.

Changes to the inheritance laws for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi mean that if a person dies without a will, half of their estate will automatically go to their spouse and the other half to their children.

“The Personal Status of Non-Muslims Law, which is enforced by the court, is the first of its kind in the world to apply civil principles in the regulation of family matters, as it addresses the smallest details of non-family matters. Muslim, and provides a modern judicial framework for foreigners to resolve disputes flexibly in accordance with international best practices, ”said Youssef Saeed Al Abri, undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

At a glance: legal changes in the United Arab Emirates

Update: December 17, 2021, 3:30 a.m.

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