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Rights of Expat Wives in the UAE

Rights of Expat Wives in the UAE
Courtesy of Caption Queen via CC Licence

Courtesy of Caption Queen via CC Licence

There are many reasons why there is a discrepancy between how westerners see the way things are handled in the Middle East, especially with many recent developments on a global scale and the rising of radical elements there. One thing you can be sure about however is that the UAE has clear and precise laws when it comes to the code of conduct commonly accepted and that there is a certain difference between what is allowed to Muslim and non-Muslim women by said law. The following will point out the differences between western culture and those inherent in UAE laws in terms of expat wives in said country:

Non-Muslims may drink within licensed establishments across the UAE as is permitted by law. You should keep in mind that excess drinking is generally not looked upon favorably in an Islamic country. One of the reasons for that is the fact that Muslims are religiously forbidden to drink alcohol and its not something their culture embraces at all. You may apply for a drink permit at the Dubai Criminal Investigation Department (CID), but you should keep in mind that this is only for personal use and nothing else. You can find application forms in most UAE liquor stores, but you will need to keep your drinking to a reasonable amount since alcohol can be pretty expensive there. The license allows you to consume alcohol legally within your home. Anywhere else apart from there and venues that allow it and you will be in violation of the law, which may easily lead to fines and jail time if caught, so do your best to remember that, unless you prefer to meet the local police. Driving under the influence is a serious offense, often punishable by jail time and deportation, so once again – be reasonable. Ask locals and police officers for more information on the subject in greater detail if you’re interested.

Unmarried Cohabitation
Living with a significant other without being married is considered a crime, a form of voluntary debasement. Transgressing these laws will carry a pretty serious jail sentence of up to three years, followed by deportation or simply immediate deportation. The same goes for hotels, so if you plan on living there for a while, you may consider separate rooms or apartments to stay on the good side of the law. Giving birth out of wedlock is a serious offense as well, punishable by deportation and prosecution. Your bills can only be paid by the person whose name appears on the bill.

Divorce Proceedings
According to the law in the UAE, a Muslim husband may divorce his wife by stating his intent in front of the state and he will be granted one. On the other hand, women cannot do the same, but there are some cases where they will be granted one. Domestic violence is one situation, as well as when a husband doesn’t pay maintenance or abandons his family. One other way is the so-called Khula divorce, where the wife has the right to seek release from matrimonial bonds, though in that case she will lose her dowry. The Khula divorce applies to situations when the Muslim husband is no longer committed to his marriage, either through his show of abuse or alcohol consumption. This has to be proven at a local court to have any credibility in divorce proceedings however. Whether or not divorce is carried out in the UAE or elsewhere is up to you and your country of origin. If you are a woman and you are the main breadwinner of your family, as well as taking care of your children and having all assets in your name, then you will have a starling chance to win divorce proceedings and to gain custody in a Dubai court, regardless of the fact of being a woman. If the opposite is in effect however, you would do well to look for a solution in your home country’s laws for a better chance at custody and other details. You will need to be intimately aware of the assets of your spouse if bad comes to worse.

Domestic Violence
The Human Rights Watch states that the UAE Federal Supreme Court upholds the right of a husband to beat his wife and children as valid forms of punishment and discipline. The thing is that this only applies to discipline which leaves no marks, else the rest is considered a crime and grounds for divorce, custody of children, compensation and other expenses as well. This is something you should keep in mind as a woman there, though the real problem usually lies in proving the presence of domestic violence above all. Unless concrete evidence is present, you will not have a chance to have the law intervening in any domestic disputes and violence.

Sexual Assault and Rape
Rape laws in the UAE are extremely strict and often carry the death penalty for such a transgression. Sex outside marriage and infidelity is also considered a serious crime, so keep in mind that consensual sex outside of marriage is illegal on UAE territories and grounds for a legal storm you’ll face if it happens on either side of a relationship. Reporting a sexual crime can be a tricky business for a woman, as was proven by the case of Marta Dalelv, a 24 year old Norwegian woman who was involved in such a case back in March 2013. Her attacker was convicted to 13 months in jail for extra-marital sex and consumption of alcohol. She was convicted and sentenced to 16 months of jail time for extra-marital sex and then subsequently pardoned due to the following outcry. The legal system of the UAE can be very strict and unflinching when it comes to violations of the law, so always keep that in mind wherever you go to stay on its good side. If you are the victim of a rape, reporting it as soon as possible is the only way to help the credibility of your statement, so never wait and go right for it if you want to see justice done. Reporting it later will make it much more difficult for you in court, not to mention if you happen to know the person involved, which may be taken as a sign of infidelity or extra-marital sexual intercourse.

When all is said and done, the UAE justice system is a strict one, unwilling to bend and closely following the tenets of Sharia law in more ways than one. Being a foreign national within the borders of the Emirates grants you some level of leeway, but in the end you would do well to stick to the cultural norms if you want to avoid any unnecessary confrontations and misunderstandings. This is an absolute must, both for your own good and that of your spouse or loved one.


Charlotte Madisson is a blogger and freelance writer from Sheffield, England. Expat herself, she is passionate about home, nature and travelling. Choosing to work for a UK man and van company came naturally as she already knew that relocating your home means relocating your whole life in another country and found out that she could help people with it. She uses every free moment for sports or spending time with a book and a glass of wine. Currently she writes articles on DIY topics for different home maintenance related companies.