According to a new decree issued on Sunday by Abu Dhabi’s ruler, non-Muslims will be allowed to marry, divorce and have joint child custody under civil law, the state news agency WAM reported.
It is the latest step taken by the United Arab Emirates to maintain its competitive edge as a regional commercial hub, where personal status laws on marriage and divorce were previously based on Islamic sharia principles, as in other Gulf countries.
The law covers civil marriage, divorce, alimony, joint child custody and proof of paternity and inheritance, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan of Abu Dhabi, who is also president of the UAE federation of the seven emirates, said in a statement.
Its goal is to ‘enhance the emirate’s position and global competitiveness as one of the most attractive destinations for talent and skills,’ WAM reported.
The civil law governing non-Muslim family matters, according to the report, is the first of its kind in the world and is ‘in line with international best practises.’
In Abu Dhabi, a new court will be established to deal with non-Muslim family matters, and it will operate in both English and Arabic.
Last year, the UAE made a number of federal-level legal changes, including decriminalising premarital sexual relations and alcohol consumption, as well as eliminating provisions for leniency in the case of so-called ‘honour killings.’
These reforms, along with other policies like extending visas, have been seen as a way for the Gulf state to become more appealing to foreign investment, tourism and long-term residency.