As an expatriate living in the Dubai, United Arab Emirates, it is hard enough to know where to turn for a decent plumber, let alone specialist advice on matrimonial and family problems. In the UK, the Solicitors Family Law Association (now ‘Resolution’ ) or the Law Society may be your first port of call. UK family solicitors and mediators are jumping from the pages of the telephone book and the internet. A large percentage of UK residents also have access to free legal advice and assistance via firms with a franchise from the Legal Services Commission. Help is in abundance.
About the Author: Alexandra Tribe is a British solicitor in Dubai, specializing in divorces and other family matters for British expatriates. Her firm, Expatriate Law Practice, has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and London. View www.expatriatelaw.com or email
for more information.
However in the event of a marriage or relationship breakdown whilst living in Dubai, it is more difficult to know where to turn. A person going through such problems may suffer months of anxiety before they are able to obtain advice and reassurance. They will find themselves requiring answers to questions such as ‘will I be able to stay here if we separate?’, ‘who will sponsor the children and provide visas?’, ‘can I divorce, and if so, where?’, ‘how will I manage financially?’ and ‘what am I entitled to?’ They may even have concerns of the criminal implications of the marriage breakdown, for example if one party to the marriage had committed adultery. In addition, they are likely to be feeling conflicting emotions such as guilt, anger, sorrow and vulnerability. The sooner these issues are addressed, the better. Often I have encountered clients who once they have been advised of their rights, reconciliation with their spouse follows, as insecurities are put aside.
Matrimonial and family issues are on the rise in the United Arab Emirates. Whereas a few years ago financial pressures and outside influences did not seem to create a significant affect on family life, long working hours, increased living costs, financial troubles, more social activities and pressures of work are leading to the breakdown of marriages here. In addition, financial vulnerability of some wives makes marriages more precarious. In Dubai in particular I have noticed that women are less in control of their financial situation within a marriage than they are in the UK. If their husband is the main earner in the family, I have found that he is more likely to be in charge of financial arrangements. Where a tax free salary is earned, more people have income in excess of their outgoings to be invested in pension funds, properties or other savings and ventures. Not always intentionally, a wife may be kept in the dark about such investments. Should the unfortunate breakdown of a relationship occur, the wife may be left guessing at the husband’s salary, let alone details of his offshore investments.
As a member of Resolution in the UK, I am obliged to follow a code of conduct that promotes reconciliation where appropriate or otherwise advocates a constructive, non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family law matters. In my experience, this minimises disruption and harm to any children involved. It also preserves the matrimonial assets by keeping costs low. It is widely recognised that agreed solutions are more likely to work in the long term than any arrangements imposed by the Court. Issuing Court proceedings in order to litigate an issue in dispute can often be seen as a hostile act, and should only be used as a last resort. However immediate and decisive action such as Court proceedings may be needed at times to safeguard the interests of a client, for example to stop one party dissipating matrimonial assets without the others’ consent, or to obtain child maintenance urgently.
On a first meeting with a client who wishes to separate from his/her spouse, an early consideration is jurisdiction. What is the appropriate forum for proceedings for divorce to be commenced? Which jurisdiction would lead to the most favourable outcome? Jurisdictions to consider would be that of the client’s home country, the spouse’s home country, or the jurisdiction of the local Dubai courts.
Jurisdiction will largely depend on the nationality, domicile and habitual residence of both parties. British expatriates are often unaware that divorce and financial matters can be dealt with swiftly through the UK courts, without them even leaving Dubai. A divorce is most usually entirely carried out on paper, without the attendance of the husband or wife at Court. It is not, as often thought, necessary to divorce in the place in which you were married.
Alternatively, divorce proceedings can be commenced in the Dubai Courts. Contrary to belief, Sharia law will not necessarily apply. If parties are in agreement about divorce, financial and children matters, using the local Courts may save time and be cost effective.
Jurisdiction is a complex issue, and requires detailed consideration. Lengthy delays to any proceedings, amicable or otherwise, can take place if matters are commenced in the wrong jurisdiction. It is also important to be aware from the outset of the enforceability of any orders that are obtained. Some orders made by the English Courts may not be enforceable in Dubai if they conflict with local laws. If separating couples seek comprehensive advice on all these aspects at an early stage, they can ensure increase the likelihood of amicable and swift resolution of the issues between them.
As in life, the key to a good marriage is compromise. The same can be applied to separation and divorce. Both parties must compromise with one other and to avoid the entire family becoming embroiled in a lengthy, costly and upsetting period; each party must try and continue to consider the feelings, needs and rights of the other party.