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UAE Introduces Major Reforms in Personal and Family Law

Home to a multitude of nationalities and a population with a majority of expats, the UAE has long been mindful of building and sustaining a supportive cultural ecosystem for its residents. In a recent endeavor towards that cause, the UAE government has introduced with immediate effect, a series of overhauls in its legal system that would ensure that the country continues to be considered an attractive destination for tourism and foreign direct investment in the coming years.

The reforms pertain to laws concerning expatriates’ wills and inheritance, marriage and divorce, indecency, and sexual harassment crimes (including ‘honor killings’) among others. These steps mean that the laws of a person’s country of origin can be used for divorces and inheritance and reflect a major breakthrough in the country’s judicial framework.

Here’s a quick look at some of the broad-stroke changes being introduced.

Marriage and inheritance

If a couple were married in their home country, but get a divorce in the UAE, the laws of the country where the marriage took place will apply. Moreover, a person’s citizenship will decide how their assets are divided with their spouse or next of kin. For an expatriate’s will involving their real estate property in the UAE, the UAE laws will be applied.

Cohabitation for unmarried couples

For the first time, the law will allow for the legal cohabitation of unmarried couples – an unprecedented move in the region. Until now, it is has been illegal for unmarried couples to co-inhabit in the Emirates.

Sexual harassment

The abolition of an article in the law that reduced the punishment for the so-called ‘honor crime’ – where a male relative can get a lighter sentence for assaulting a female relative under the guise of “protecting honor” – is one of the most notable changes made in the penal code. According to the new amendments, such crimes will be considered as murder and punished accordingly. There will also be stricter punishments for men who subject women to harassment of any kind. The punishment for the rape of a minor or someone with limited mental capacity will be execution.

Alcohol and decency

Alcohol consumption is no longer a criminal offense. Anyone who drinks or is in possession of alcohol or sells alcoholic beverages in authorized areas without an alcohol license will not face any penalties. The punishment, however, will be restricted to consuming liquor or serving it or selling it to a person younger than 21 years of age and to those who bought liquor on behalf of a person under 21 years of age. New changes in the decency laws state that the punishment for those who commit indecent acts in public will be faced with a financial fine instead of a prison sentence.

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