INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION IN THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Taken from the U.S. Department of State
Note: We have worked on several cases concerning child custody and divorce for expatriates in the United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We work with local counsel there.
When child custody disputes arise between parents, custody decisions are based on Islamic (Shari’a) law. Non-UAE nationals resident in the UAE, whether married to a UAE or non-UAE citizen, may file custody cases in the UAE. Non-residents of the UAE may also file custody cases in the UAE, but may need to authorize a UAE resident and/or a lawyer practicing in the UAE to act on their behalf for the duration of the case. Non-Muslims are also permitted to file cases in the UAE family courts, under Shari’a law.
In determining issues of custody, UAE courts may take into consideration the parents' religion, place of permanent residence, income, and the mother’s subsequent marital status. Priority is generally given to the Muslim father, irrespective of his nationality, when the mother is a non-Muslim. As a basic starting point under Shari’a law, a Muslim mother may be granted custody of girls under the age of nine and boys under the age of seven, at which time custody may be transferred to the father.
If a child has attained an "age of discretion," that child may be allowed to choose the parent with whom he or she wishes to live. A UAE lawyer should be contacted to discuss the definition of "age of discretion."
If the court finds the mother "incompetent," custody of a child, regardless of age, can be given to the father, or to the child's grandmother on the father’s side. A finding of incompetence is left fully to the discretion of the Shari’a judge. Shari’a courts consistently find parents incompetent if they engage in behavior that is considered to be inconsistent with the Islamic faith. Further, a mother may lose her rights of custody should she remarry. If both the mother and father are ruled incompetent, custody of the children may be given to the child's paternal grandparents.
Enforcement of Foreign Judgments
Custody orders and judgments of foreign courts are not enforceable in the UAE. UAE courts will not enforce U.S. court decrees ordering a parent in the UAE to pay child support. An American parent with a U.S. court order granting him or her custody can present that order to the court, and the court may take it into consideration, but it will not be binding in a custody proceeding in the UAE.
Non-custodial parents are guaranteed visitation rights, but may have to seek approval from the appropriate authorities. In some cases the custodial parent and family have been very open and accommodating in facilitating the right of the non-custodial parent to visit and maintain contact with the child, but in other cases the custodial parent and family have not been so accommodating.
Dual nationality is not recognized under UAE law. Children of UAE fathers automatically acquire UAE citizenship at birth, regardless of where the child was born. In certain circumstances, UAE mothers can also transmit citizenship. UAE citizens must enter and exit the country on UAE passports.
Exit visas are not required to leave the UAE. However, all persons exiting the country must exit on the passport that shows proof of the person’s legal status in the UAE, meaning either their residence or entry visa.
A parent can obtain a court order that places a travel ban on a child, and this ban will be enforced at all the airports in the country. If a parent attempts to leave with a child who has been placed under a travel ban, this could potentially lead to new legal issues concerning the custody of the child.