Disclaimer: Any information contained in these pages relating to the legal system in UAE is provided for general information only. Independent legal advice should be sought in UAE for specific information relating to individual cases. A list of English-speaking lawyers in UAE is available on the website of the British Embassies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Although the abduction of a child from the UK to the UAE is not automatically a crime in the UAE, there is an extradition treaty between the two countries which may result in an abducting parent being extradited back to the UK. Parental child abduction is, however, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) if a parent or grandparent abducts their own child or grand-child from the person who has legal guardianship or custody as established by a UAE judicial decision.
UAE has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention seeks to return children abducted or retained overseas by a parent to their country of habitual residence, for the courts of that country to decide on matters of residence and contact.
There is no agreed international system in place to return children from UAE to the UK. Therefore, parental child abduction cases from the UK to UAE are often difficult to resolve. Neither the British government nor the British Embassy can force the abducting parent or the UAE government to return a child to the UK.
While UK Court Orders are not recognised in the UAE, they can be submitted as part of a child custody case for consideration by the UAE Courts. A local lawyer in UAE will be able to advise whether this is appropriate in individual circumstances.
UAE Personal Affairs Law, which is based on Islamic principles, applies in custody dispute cases. Under Personal Affairs Law, after divorce proceedings take place Muslim mothers keep custody of girls under thirteen years old and boys under eleven years old. After this, custody may be transferred to the father or the father’s family if directed by the Sharia court unless the court believes extending the age limit is for the benefit of the child. If the mother is found to be ‘incompetent’, if her behaviour is considered to be inconsistent with Islamic faith or if she remarries, the courts will decide NOT to award her custody.
With respect to non-Muslims, the law of the child’s birth place applies in so far as it does not conflict with federal local laws. Foreign nationals are able to ask for their case to be heard under the law of their country of origin when the case is first presented. But the law of their own country cannot be applied (or used to challenge a verdict) once the case has started in the UAE Courts.
If the father of a child is Muslim, the child will be regarded as Muslim. Under UAE Personal Affairs Law, to take custody of a child the parent of the child must be of the same religion as the child. If the custodian of a child is the mother and she is of a different religion to the child, then her custody will be annulled unless decided otherwise by a judge. Appeals are possible if lodged within thirty days after the court decision on custody is made. Marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not recognised in UAE.
The parent who does not have custody is entitled to contact with the child subject to a judicial decision. The judgment will be forcibly executed if the parent with custody refuses to abide by it.
N.B. This section constitutes general information on the UAE system. For detailed information and advice on how the law may apply to the circumstances of individual cases, independent legal advice should be sought in UAE.
A mother cannot travel with her child out of the UAE without getting written approval from the child’s father, even if she has legal custody. If the father refuses, the matter can be brought before a judge. It is possible for a parent to apply to the court for a stop order to be issued to prevent a spouse or child from leaving the country. If there is a stop order in place, a parent will be stopped at the airport and prevented from leaving the country.
UAE does not recognise dual nationality. Therefore, a person has to enter and exit UAE on the same passport. A UK Emergency Travel Document (ETD) may be used for travel in an emergency if the British passport has been lost or stolen. An exit stamp from Immigration is required in the ETD. If there is a travel ban on the holder, they will not be able to get the exit stamp until the ban is lifted, and therefore will not be able to leave the country.
Mediation is an option when parents are not able to reach an amicable agreement between themselves about their children’s futures, but do not wish to take court action. A neutral party, or mediator, can assist in enabling parents to form a mutually acceptable decision on custody and contact with their children.
Reunite is the leading UK charity specialising in international child abduction. The services range from offering practical impartial advice and mediation to providing a helpful support network aimed at those who have had their child abducted. For more information about Reunite and their services, visit Reunite’s website or call 0116 3555 345.
The consular section of the British Embassies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai can also help in finding local private sector organisations that offer mediation services.
The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) was set up in July 2007 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The non-profit shelter provides a 24 hr hotline (tel: 800 111) whereby a person can call to receive information on DFWAC services and request emergency assistance. Some of the services they offer for women are: ongoing case management and referral, refuge for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, support planning and counselling. All services are free of charge. For more information, see the DFWAC website.