FINANCIAL RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN IN THE UAE: NAVIGATING THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT AND PERSONAL STATUS LAW

29 Dec, 2023
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Ines Pinel Lorenzo

Paralegal, Elnaggar & Partners

In the United Arab Emirates, Muslim marriage is governed by the Federal Law No. 28/2005 on Personal Status (hereinafter referred as Personal Status Law or PSL). There are many misconceptions about Muslim marriage in the UAE, some of the most common myths are, for example: "Once we are married, her/his property is also mine", "All earnings are merged into one after marriage" and "Only one spouse is responsible for caring for the children". It is important to understand that these beliefs are not correct or accurate, and in this article we will explore why.

UAE's ongoing social and legal reforms are paving the way for women's economic independence. The Personal Status Law comprehensively regulates family matters (marriage, divorce, separation) but crucially, it also guarantees financial autonomy for married spouses. This article delves into the financial rights of married women in the UAE, with a particular focus on strategies for safeguarding and managing their independent assets.

Financial Independence under UAE Personal Status Law

Contrary to some misconceptions, marriage in the UAE does not lead to an automatic merger of financial assets. Each spouse retains ownership and control over the assets they acquired before and during the marriage (Article 62 of PSL). This includes:

  • Real estate: Individual ownership of properties remains intact, although joint ownership or co-investment can be agreed upon in a marriage contract.
  • Bank accounts and investments: Each spouse maintains control over their own accounts and investments, unless otherwise stipulated in a prenuptial agreement.
  • Salary and income: Individual earnings remain under the control of the respective spouse who earned them.

The concept of community property recognizes that certain assets belong to both spouses equally. These typically include assets acquired jointly through their combined efforts during the marriage. The management and distribution of these assets depend on the stipulations outlined in the marriage contract. In the absence of a contract, the PSL outlines a framework for equitable division based on factors like contribution, needs, and duration of the marriage.

Apart from this, why is important the financial transparency in a marriage?

Prior to the marriage, it is important for couples to be open and transparent about their finances. This will help them to understand each other's financial situation and make informed decisions about their future. It can also lead to discussions about a Pre- or Post-Nuptial Agreement, which can formalize financial arrangements and provide clarity for the future. At this stage its important identify the individual assets of each party.

During the marriage, imagine a situation where illness, unexpected hardships, or even loss can strike at any moment. In those storms, having your spouse's back goes beyond emotional support; it becomes about navigating challenges with knowledge and resources. This requires open communication and shared understanding of finances. Know the location of bank accounts, shared investments, and individual savings – a financial map for two. Equally crucial are key documents like medical records, life insurance policies, and legal power of attorney grants – a safety net woven together. With transparent finances and ready access to these documents, you and your partner can face any difficulty side-by-side, equipped to prioritize each other's well-being through the toughest times.

During any separation or divorce is important to ensure that both spouses will receive all the benefits and compensations to which they are legally entitled during separation or divorce. This may include division of assets and debts, child support, alimony and other specific rights (life insurance, inheritance…).

Duties and obligations of the spouses

The Personal Status Law in the UAE outlines a detailed framework for the rights and obligations of spouses within a marriage. These can be broadly categorized as mutual rights, rights specific to the wife, and rights specific to the husband.

MUTUAL RIGHTS (Article 54 of Personal Status Law):

  • Legitimate Conjugal Enjoyment: Both spouses have the right to enjoy each other.
  • Cohabitation and Consensual Living: Spouses are expected to share a home and live together unless agreed otherwise in the marriage contract.
  • Respect and Compassion: Mutual respect, kindness, and consideration are fundamental obligations for both spouses, promoting the well-being of the family unit.
  • Child Upbringing: Both parents share the responsibility for caring for and educating their children, ensuring a healthy and secure upbringing.

WIFE RIGHTS (Article 55 of Personal Status Law):

  • Alimony: The wife has the right to receive financial support (alimony) from her husband, which has priority over all his other debts.
  • Education and Freedom: The wife has the right to pursue her education and career goals without unreasonable restrictions from her husband.
  • Family Ties: The husband cannot prevent the wife from maintaining relationships with her family, including parents, children, and siblings.
  • Control over Personal Property: The wife retains full ownership and control over any property she possessed before or during the marriage.
  • Freedom from Harm: The wife has the right to be free from any physical or emotional harm inflicted by her husband.
  • Equality in Polygamy: If the husband has multiple wives, he is obligated to treat all of them fairly and equitably in terms of affection, time, and provision.

HUSBAND RIGHTS (Article 56 of Personal Status Law):

  • Household Management: The husband has the responsibility to oversee the household and manage its assets in a responsible manner.
  • Parenting Rights: The husband has the right to request his children be breastfed by the mother, subject to her capacity and health conditions.
  • Must warrantee to his wife:
    • Maintenance and support: This includes providing for the wife's basic needs like housing, food, clothing, and healthcare, as well as ensuring the well-being of their children. The amount of maintenance is determined by the husband's financial capacity, the wife's needs, and the standard of living accustomed to during the marriage.
    • Non-Obstruction and Respect: The article further emphasizes the husband's obligation to allow his wife to pursue her education and maintain relationships with her family, ensuring no financial restrictions hinder her personal growth and well-being.
    • Financial Independence and Property Rights: The point about "non-interference with her personal properties" reinforces the wife's right to retain ownership and control over her individual assets, a crucial aspect of financial autonomy within the marriage.
    • Accommodating Family Members in the Conjugal Dwelling: While the husband can, under certain conditions, house his parents or children from another marriage in the shared home, his financial responsibility towards them is explicitly stated, ensuring the wife's basic needs are not compromised.

Financial aspects of divorce in the UAE

Financial difficulties are one of the leading causes of divorce in the United Arab Emirates. Some of the most common situations include:

  • Infidelity: Extramarital affairs often involve hidden financial spending, feeling distrust and resentment.
  • Communication breakdown: Costly hobbies or social distractions can draw attention away from home and crucial conversations, creating a disconnect.
  • Job loss and income pressures: Losing a primary income source strains the family budget and fosters tension.

With regard to the law governing civil transactions in the UAE, and therefore applicable to Muslim marriages, the Federal Law No. 5/1985 On the Civil Transactions Law of the United Arab Emirates State Civil Code (hereinafter referred to as Civil Code), establishes that: "the law of the State where the marriage was celebrated shall govern the personal and property effects of the marriage contract" such as divorce, repudiation, and separation. (Article 15 of the Civil Code).

In simpler terms, if you are married in the UAE, regardless of your nationality, the UAE laws will generally govern your marriage in terms of rights, obligations, and the legal processes for its dissolution. So, if you got married in Dubai, even if you and your spouse are not UAE citizens, you will need to follow the UAE laws for divorce, property division, etc.

Regarding to the child custody, the PSL grants parents joint responsibility for their children, but it also distinguishes between custody and guardianship.

Custody refers to the day-to-day care of a child. In the UAE, custody of children under the age of 18 is usually granted to the mother. However, the father may also request custody, and the court will decide based on the best interests of the child.

Guardianship refers to the financial responsibility for a child. In the UAE, guardianship of children under the age of 18 is usually granted to the father. However, the mother may also request guardianship, and the court will decide based on the best interests of the child.

In 2016, the UAE passed the Wadeema's Law, which protects the rights of children in the country. It guarantees children the right to a family life, education, adequate healthcare, and protection from violence and abuse. Moreover, it emphasizes parental responsibility, ensuring parents fulfill their obligation to safeguard their children's rights.

The UAE's legal framework, encompassing the PSL, Wadeema's Law, and ongoing legislative developments, strives to create a safe and nurturing environment for children. By prioritizing their best interests, protecting their rights, and ensuring parental responsibility, the UAE sets a strong example for child protection within the region and beyond. However, the decision of who will have custody of the children in the event of divorce will be up to the courts of the United Arab Emirates.

Recommendations

In conclusion, I would like to share some tips for preventing marital conflict. These tips are based on the premise that open and honest communication, financial planning, and a willingness to resolve conflict peacefully are essential for a healthy and lasting relationship.

To nurture a thriving marriage, prioritizing open and honest communication is paramount. Discuss finances – income, expenses, debts, and goals – with transparency and clarity. This can be facilitated by encouraging individual bank accounts for each spouse, fostering financial autonomy while maintaining shared responsibility for family finances. For major assets like houses, consider joint ownership for mutual protection in case of unforeseen circumstances. Remember, under UAE law, an asset solely registered in one spouse's name belongs solely to them.

Instead of rushing to the courtroom, embrace alternative solutions when financial disagreements arise. Mediation and conciliation offer cost-effective and amicable paths to resolving conflict, preserving goodwill, and often leading to swifter outcomes.

Finally, consider the safety net of pre- or post-nuptial agreements. While there's an initial legal cost, these contracts outline financial expectations and obligations, potentially mitigating future strain and conflict if circumstances change. Remember, proactive planning pales in comparison to the emotional and financial turmoil of contested divorces.

 

Inés Piñel Lorenzo

Legal Consultant
Elnaggar & Partners

 

 

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