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Divorcing as an expat in the UAE: what you need to know

Ending a marriage is never going to be easy, but when you’re an expat living in the UAE away from your friends, family and support network, things can seem even more challenging.

There is no doubting that divorce will take its toll on you emotionally and financially. As an expat, divorcing means that you’ll be away from your usual support system, and finding a place to stay or a shoulder to cry on can be harder than it would be if you were back home.

There’s also the added pressure of legal advice - the chances are that you have contacts who can guide you through the process, but if you’re living on the other side of the world, that legal advice won’t be useful and you’ll be left wondering what to do - more so if you’re new to the country, you’re on a low money or you don’t speak the language.

However, it is important to remain positive and focus on securing an amicable divorce that works for everyone in your family - especially when there are children involved.

Provided you and your partner both agree that the marriage is over, and you’re happy to get divorced in the United Arab Emirates, the actual divorce is usually a straightforward process. 

We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about getting divorced as a UAE expat.


Understanding the law

Once you and your partner have decided that you would like to get divorced, then you must decide where. For a court to consider a divorce application, factors such as where you were married, where you were born, and where you now reside will be taken into consideration.

It is important to speak with a lawyer and choose the right jurisdiction for your divorce, and remember that different courts will have different rules. For example, if you are a dependent housewife and you choose to divorce in a UAE court, your options will be extremely limited if you are looking for spousal maintenance and support. In English law, on the other hand, you will have more options, so deciding on the right jurisdiction is important.

If you do not want to go through the time-consuming and costly court process, then you can obtain a divorce through mutual consent. For this to happen, you and your partner will have to agree on all of the terms relating to your marriage breakdown, and come up with a way forward that involves payments, the sharing of assets, child custody, and residency, etc.

Before this can happen, however, you’ll need to meet with a reconcili­ation counsellor, which is in line with the country’s policy on respecting marriage and family units.


Grounds for divorce

Perhaps one of the most important things to take into consideration when divorcing in the UAE is that some grounds for divorce can have serious and, in some cases unintended, consequences. Adultery in the country is a criminal offence and citing adultery as grounds for divorce could result in your partner being prosecuted or deported from the country. In order to protect both parties and simplify proceedings, most lawyers encourage their clients to come to a mutual agreement and settlement so that ‘reasons’ are not required for divorce.

Women have the right to seek a divorce in the country under federal law, but must have grounds for doing so, whether that be unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation.



Provided that you reach an agreement with your partner, and have put in place a plan for your children and your assets, you can be divorced within three months in the United Arab Emirates. The process happens much quicker than it does in some Western jurisdictions, which is why many expats choose to get divorced with the territory. As always, having an attentive and proactive divorce lawyer will reduce the chances of delays or hold-ups. On the other hand, if you struggle to reach an agreement, litigation can continue for a year or more.


Children and divorce

One of the most challenging parts about divorce is dealing with children, both in helping them understand your divorce and coming to an agreement with your partner relating to custody. It is important to note that parents do not share equal responsibility to their children in the UAE. Mothers generally are considered custodians, whilst fathers become guardians.

As such, mothers will be responsible for the everyday care and nurturing of their children, until the child reaches an age where the custody will move to the father - aged 11 for boys, and 13 for girls. If the child’s mother has been sentenced to a crime or has an infectious disease, then custody will automatically be granted to the father or another relative.

As already mentioned, coming to your own agreement away from court with a family lawyer is the most sensible solution, where you can arrange to share equal custody of your children.


Visas post-divorce

Many female expats presume that, when they divorce, their visas will automatically cancel and they will have to return to their home country, but this is not the case. In some rare circumstances, women will be stripped of their visa after a divorce, but most divorced women can obtain a visa on their own, allowing them to live in the country. Provided you have full or part-time employment within the country, or you have set up your own company, you will be allowed to hold onto your visa and continue to live in Dubai post-divorce.


The cost of a divorce in the UAE

Provided you have an amicable and uncontested divorce, you can expect to pay between 10,000 and 20,000 dirhams for your divorce, but this depends on your law firm and personal circumstances. For divorces with disputes or those who must use the courts to decide an outcome, legal fees can run closer to 30,000 dirhams, so it makes sense to work together.

Nobody likes the idea of getting divorced, but in some circumstances, it’s the only option. It is important to remember to seek professional legal advice, both on your own and as a couple, and work together to make your divorce as pain-free and amicable as you possibly can. To find a suitable divorce lawyer visit www.profezo.com.


Don’t forget to check back to Money Saving Expat regularly for tips and advice on how to live your best expat life, whether you’re in the United Arab Emirates or elsewhere in the world.


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