New expat family laws open Abu Dhabi to the world

Laws, like any public institution, must be able to keep pace with a changing world. This time a year ago, the UAE revealed a major overhaul of its penal and civil codes, modernising a number of rules tied to family and personal law. Now, Abu Dhabi’s government have announced the introduction of new laws that will also mark significant changes for many of the emirate’s residents.

Beneath the specifics of the new measures, the move reflects a progressive outlook in the UAE.

Released on Sunday, the laws seek to secure more legal rights for non-Muslim men and women, who come from all corners of the world. This includes joint custody of children, expediting divorce procedures and the simplification of inheritance cases. In an effort to make proceedings more accessible, there are also plans to roll out these laws in courts that use English as an official language, alongside Arabic.

On an individual level, they would reduce some of the stress people, particularly children, endure when certain issues within the family arise. Standardising an approach to complex situations, such as child custody after a divorce, will reduce the time people have to spend in complex legal limbo. And for all ages, efficient laws that better correspond to a person’s culture build a sense of home away from home, reassuring them that in Abu Dhabi, should an occasion requiring the courts arise, they can go to a new court that caters to them.

More widely, this will help build the openness and resilience of the emirate’s society after a very difficult period for the whole world. Covid-19 has disrupted families and taken many lives, situations that often require the legal sector. We have read lots about physical measures taken to protect the wellbeing of people during the pandemic, be they vaccines or social distancing guidelines. But, as we saw on Sunday, governments can offer support in the conceptual realm too. Yousef Al Abri, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, said the new legislation dealt with the smallest details regarding the family lives of non-Muslims to “reflect Abu Dhabi’s legislative leadership and the global status it has achieved”.

The courts are an integral part of healthy societies, whatever the host culture. But they are still not a place people like to be. That is why we should welcome news that one year on from last November’s UAE-wide reforms, the number of certain types of cases going to court has reduced significantly, according to Hassan Elhais, a legal consultant. By tackling issues relating to expat families, some of the most common, but also most complex legal cases, it is fair to expect that next year, the number of cases could be even lower.

These reforms are not just about helping people in tough times, though. They are also about building a stronger, more efficient country. Ahmed Ibrahim Saif, a senior judge, linked the UAE reforms to a wider modernisation that is underway. “These amendments serve the country’s pursuit of innovation and attracting investments and talents,” he said. It is no surprise, then, that more of these measures have been revealed in Projects of the 50, a recent spate of initiatives to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary and pave the way for making the next half-century as successful as the last.

At its deepest level, this ongoing process is about revealing the fact that the UAE can be at the centre of a world in which innovation and globalisation are developing apace. It is its people that will do this, and its laws that will allow them to do so.

Published: November 9th 2021, 3:00 AM