When a couple decide to divorce the issue can be further complicated when you are residing in a foreign country where you are not aware of the local laws and procedures.

The laws governing divorce in the UAE are very different to the UK, for example, and become even more complicated if there are children and assets involved.

Here, solicitor Nita Maru answers some frequently asked questions by people who are thinking of getting divorced.

Where can I divorce and which law prevails?

Expats have a choice of jurisdiction as to divorce proceedings through their domicile, residence or nationality. Foreign nationals can file for divorce in their home country or in the UAE. They can even divorce under their home country’s laws in the UAE so long as they are both citizens of the same foreign country. The issue becomes complicated when the parties have different nationalities. Where the husband is a national of one country and the wife another, the law of the husband’s country would be upheld as per UAE law. In situations where the home country laws do not fully cover certain aspects of the divorce procedure the courts here would have a discretion to apply UAE law in that case. However, when choosing jurisdiction it is very important to seek legal advice from a licensed lawyer from the outset, as the jurisdiction in which you decide to divorce in can have a huge impact on your financial settlement, maintenance, custody and guardianship of children going forward.

Where do I initiate proceedings?

Once proper legal advice is sought, either party can open a file to divorce at the court stipulating their decision to dissolve the marriage. This is followed by a meeting with a conciliator at the court to ascertain if an amicable agreement can be reached or not between the parties. This is mandatory for divorce proceedings in the UAE. If a resolution cannot be reached then the matter proceeds before the courts to conclude the divorce.

Is the divorce process very long in the UAE?

A divorce can be concluded in approximately three months if both parties are able to reach an amicable agreement with regards to finances and arrangements for children. If there are disputes regarding financial settlements and children, for example, then the proceedings would take longer to conclude as hearings are required before a judge.

Who will get custody of my children?

It is important to note that in the UAE parents do not share equal parental responsibility like they would, for example, in England. However, the court here will always act in the best interests of the child and unless they are given a reason to believe otherwise, in this jurisdiction following a divorce, the mother will become the ‘custodian’ and the father the ‘guardian’. Usually the custody of the children remains with the mother until the children reach the age of puberty. At that point the father has a right to make an application for custody to be transferred to himself If the transfer of custody to the father is disputed the court will make a decision based on the facts of the individual case. As custodian the mother is responsible for the day-to-day care of the children The father, as guardian, is responsible for the child’s education, medical treatment, accommodation and guiding them in terms of morals and religion.

As a guardian can I visit my children?

Following a divorce, a guardian can make an application to the court so that he (usually the father) can obtain visitation rights to visit his children regularly. Therefore, the mother as custodian of the children cannot permanently move to another country in order to deliberately prevent such contact by the father.

Am I able to leave the country with my children?

Leaving and removing a child without the consent of the other party amounts to child abduction. This is a very sensitive situation, particularly when a mother wishes to flee this jurisdiction to avoid the application of the local UAE law. Even your home country are likely to return abducted children to their country of residence. If either parent has concerns that their permission will not be sought for travel they can obtain a ‘travel ban’ preventing the child leaving from the airport. In such situations it is prudent to speak to a lawyer about the arrangements and safeguards that can be put in place if you feel there is a potential risk of child abduction arising.

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