Divorce During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Spending lots of time together as a family is a dream come true for many couples who are kept apart by the long working hours and frequent travel which is part of many high-level jobs in the UAE.  The Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the country being completely locked down for several weeks, meant many families had been confined to their homes 24/7.

If the relationship is a safe and happy one, this enforced togetherness and the stress of homeschooling and economic uncertainty can be coped with. But if tensions in the relationship already existed, such forced confinement and added stress could be the last straw, driving a couple to seek divorce.

On 8 April 2020, Dubai suspended marriages and divorce until further notice.  However, for expatriate couples who may be entitled to divorce in another jurisdiction, divorce proceedings can still be issued.

Establishing which country to file for divorce

One of the first matters a divorce lawyer must consider in cases involving international couples is which jurisdiction would be the most advantageous for financial proceedings.  In the UK, the court retains jurisdiction to make financial orders after the pronouncement of an overseas divorce under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. Therefore, the dissolution of the marriage or civil partnership overseas does not necessarily result in a bar to financial proceedings taking place in England and Wales.

If you and/or your spouse have sufficient connection to the UK, you can divorce there, regardless of the fact you got married in or currently reside in the UAE.  The court will want proof of residency and/or the status of habitual residency by one or both spouses in England or joint domicile.  In certain circumstances, the English family courts can decide on a divorce if both spouses live in another country, but one is domiciled in England.

Habitual residence and domicile

Habitual residence is the country where you normally live.  For example, if you live and work in Dubai, your children go to school here, and your hobbies and lifestyle are based in the Emirate, you and your spouse will be classed as habitually resident in Dubai.  This will be the case even if you spend the summer holidays visiting grandparents in England.

The term domicile is more elusive.  In simplest terms, it refers to the country where a person has the closest ties.  You can be a domicile of a state by birth or by choice, but you can only have one domicile at a time.

Domicile commonly refers to a country where a person was born.  However, if someone leaves their native country with the intention of permanently settling in another nation, that nation becomes their domicile of choice.  For many UAE expatriates, their residence is in one of the Emirates, but their domicile is abroad.

Avoiding Court proceedings

Protracted battles regarding which jurisdiction should decide on the financial and childcare aspects of your divorce can be ruinously expensive.  If Covid-19 has led you to decide to end your marriage, it is vital to talk to an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible.  In many cases, disputes over jurisdiction, finances, and custody can be resolved through non-confrontational methods such as negotiation and mediation.  Highly-skilled family lawyers aim to create Settlement Agreements which saves all parties (including any children) the stress and financial hardship of going to court.

For British expatriates, instructing a British and UAE qualified lawyer provides the added advantage of not having to instruct a UK-based lawyer if you and your spouse agree to divorce under English law.  This will minimise time off work and disruption to your children’s routines by negating the need to travel to the UK if the matter does proceed to court despite the best efforts to avoid litigation.

Final words

If you are planning to divorce your spouse, the Covid-19 pandemic will not prevent you from getting the legal advice you need to protect your best interests.  Most law firms are now set up for video calls and the lockdown is slowly lifting.  The family courts in the UK are operating remotely and mediators are running sessions via video conferencing.

To find out more about divorcing during the Covid-19 pandemic, please contact our office at info@twslegal.ae or call +971 4 448 4284.

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