expat network

Divorce in Dubai or England – What Are Your Options?

Based in UAE and heading for divorce? Know your legal options.



Written for Expat Network By Michael Rowlands, Partner and Head of London Family Law, JMW Solicitors LLP


London is regarded as ‘divorce capital of the world’ largely for its generous treatment of wives in the event of marriage breakdown. Dubai, on the other hand, has developed a reputation as ‘divorce capital of the world’ for a different reason — the high number of marriages that end there.


Any expatriate married couple facing the prospect of divorce will encounter three critical questions:

  • Where can I divorce?
  • Where should I divorce?
  • Where are the resources of the marriage?


For those in UAE, the different answers can in turn mean very different outcomes and some will appeal more to husbands than wives


Local Law

If you are living legitimately in UAE and are resident then you are likely to be entitled to divorce there. Non-Muslims can use the Law of Personal Status. The local law remedies available are, however, limited; no spousal maintenance beyond 12 months of separation (understood not to exceed 25% of the husband’s income), the possibility of modest backdating in certain circumstances and no division of assets (pension, bonuses, property, savings) if they are not in joint names or a contribution (in money) can be proved.

If children are involved then they will be supported and there is the possibility of the mother receiving a modest carer’s allowance.  It is possible although difficult for foreigners to ask the Courts to use the law of their own country.


English Proceedings

Most expatriate wives will prefer an English law divorce because it is likely to benefit them.  The right to start proceedings in England is governed by some fairly simple rules. Habitual residence is one, however English domicile is another. Most expatriate couples would probably be found to have retained English domicile, particularly living in UAE where citizenship is unlikely. Moving and no longer paying tax in the UK does not mean loss of domicile of origin.

Domicile is often a route to snare jurisdiction in England where, as things stand, the remedies available include lifelong financial support, division of all assets including pensions (often equally) regardless of whose name they are in (although companies and trust assets will need careful analysis).


If you are faced with a divorce in UAE, however, there are two fallback positions:

  • The possibility for a claim to be made in the Courts of the UK under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 which allows the English Court to make provision where an inadequate provision has been made overseas.
  • Where there are children, an English Court can also make orders for the benefit of the children during their minority which can include the use of a home and a significantly more generous carer’s allowance for the mother.


The complexities of the law on marriage breakdown for expatriates heading towards or residing in UAE requires good legal advice here and there but leaves plenty of scope for divorce planning through pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Don’t leave home without one.


Michael Rowlands is family law partner at Kingsley Napley LLP and a member of the firm’s International Families practice.


See also the related article ‘Expat Children And Custody In UAE’