Divorce in the United Arab Emirates
Background of study
Social challenges form an essential part of any society or community in the development process, and it is normal for any given society to go through these problems. The United Arab Emirates is among the fastest developing nations socially and innovatively, and this is attributed to urbanization. However, their development has led to the degradation of traditional social values as they have paved the way for urban principles and morals (El-Haddad, 2003). Arab and Muslims states are known mostly for how they uphold traditional values in their culture such as religion, marriage, and societal roles (Bristol-Rhys, 2007). Despite this occurrence, the current generation has been faced with an overwhelming revolution that has seen some of these traditions broken especially in marriage. Traditionally, all marriages were arranged and intercultural but people in the present day are slowly breaking away from those trends. Women are empowering themselves, defining new roles, and making specifications before committing to marriage such as insisting on continuing with education, exploring professional options, having a separate residence, and invoking divorce under their practice of “Khula” to prevent polygamy (Kelly, 2009).
Changes in social structure and urbanization in the UAE have had an adverse impact on the marital status of several of its citizens and noncitizens. The shocking and rising statistics, for a religiously strict nation, has led to the need to conduct further study on the commonness of broken relationships. This report seeks to venture into divorce as a social problem, determine its causes, and review the effectiveness of UAE laws in the divorce process. The first step includes establishing a hypothesis for the study and outlining the objectives. Secondly, a literature review comprising of articles, databases, and reports among others will be conducted on the issues raised in preparation for a field study of the same. The third step involves a field study gathering raw data for analysis in the methodology stage whereby the results will confirm, deny or add more information to the hypothesis before finally giving recommendations.
Divorce in itself is a grueling and emotionally draining process for the parties involved, if they were married for the right reasons in the first place. However, conducting a divorce in the UAE adds up to the stress due to the delicate nature of steps involved and rules to follow before finalizing the divorce process. The country needs to look into the reasons leading to the increased divorce rates in the country, at the same time finding ways on how to make the process easier for people who are already in a tense situation.
This study intends to explore the validity of the hypothesis through the following objectives:
- To determine the prevalence of divorce in UAE
- To research on the leading causes of divorce in the UAE
- To explore how the procedure is conducted for both citizens and expats
- To find recommendations on curbing increased divorce rates and making the system smooth for separating couples.
This section reviews all existing literature on divorce in the UAE to provide background information, secondary data, and basic statistics on the topic. The National Statistics Center in Dubai indicated a record of over 12,000 cases of marriage annulment within three years from 2011 (Anser, 2013). Out of this figure, over 4,000 cases appeared in 2013 with Emirati couples and Abu Dhabi leading with over 33% of divorce cases at the time (Anser, 2013). The report further indicates that the Abu Dhabi police conduct awareness and outreach programs to reach out to the public on the importance of staying together and the negative impact of divorce. They witness firsthand the impact of separation on families including children lacking parental care, emotional hurt and confusion, squabbles over custody and property ownership, and psychological problems for both spouses and children.
The NSC report focusing on Abu Dhabi also stated infidelity, economic strain, poor communication, religion, media, and cultural differences as the leading causes of divorce forming almost 46% of the separation cases reported. Dubai came second with 20%, and Sharjah with 13% (Anser, 2013). In 2013, Ras Al Khaimah also indicated an increased rate comprising of at least 300 out of the 1700 cases reported in the year. In 2014, the reported incidents rose by approximately 35% in each of the Emiratis mentioned.
Causes for divorce
The leading factor stated in causes for divorce is infidelity from extramarital relationships. Reports indicate that nearly 20% of men are or have been unfaithful to their wives, and 6% of women openly admitted to cheating (Al Gharaibeh & Bromfield, 2012). Sociologist and doctor Saban states that the case is prevalent for expats who struggle or unable to live with their families in the UAE (McNulty, 2015). Secondly, surveys indicate poor communication as another leading cause of divorce. It goes hand in hand or as a result of lack of love, domestic violence, and adultery (Al- Kazi, 2008). Expats who come from different cultural backgrounds also struggle with the same due to distance or inability to understand each other arising from cultural differences (El Sadaani, 2006).
Loss of employment in relationships leads to financial strains, especially in a culture where men are the sole breadwinners or dependants. In the UAE, most cases of job loss for expats also include deportation or leaving the country. This also forces couples to separate when one has to leave the other or is unable to find another job (McNulty, 2015). For a mostly Islamic state, religious differences have also prompted the end of many unions. A psychologist based in Dubai report that approximately 80% of marital counseling cases involve people from different ethnicities (Rashid & Tahboob, 1998).
The fifth factor responsible for separation in UAE is the lack of a reliable support system. This aspect affects expats mostly because they have to adjust to living in a foreign place with different rules, expectations, nationalities, and cultures (McNulty, 2015). Most of them leave their families and loved ones behind thus lacking the physical support they need in times of challenges. In the case of married couples, most of the time they seek refuge in each other and when they fight they begin to drift, possibly leading to separation. Couples also have unrealistic expectations when they move to the Emirates. A research conducted on social challenges in the UAE indicates that most people picture a luxurious life but are later hit with the hard reality and the changes to adapt to, that they begin to drift in their relationship (Hassane & Abdullah, 2011). Dubai’s Director for the Women and Children Foundation mentioned that relationship immaturity usually displays itself in such events and that the only solution is for couples to sit, talk, and resolve their differences.
Increased access to technology and information and exposure through social media has led to a rise in divorce cases in UAE (Wang & Kassam, 2016). A little over half of the country’s population is registered on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tinder. Interesting reasons such as addiction to social media, virtual relationships, and flirting contribute to divorces in UAE (Wang & Kassam, 2016).
Due to the culture of arranged marriage among Muslims, most couples rarely have the option or time to date each other and establish their sexual, emotional, or rational compatibility leading to future disappointments that strain unions (Bromfield, Ashour, & Rider, 2016). Also, the stressful lifestyle of long working hours, commuting, and fatigue prevents some people from spending quality time together, or fulfilling their roles in marriage as expected. The tensions later build up, and if unresolved, they consequently lead to divorce and separation.
Financial issues may also arise not because of its lack thereof, but due to differences in wages and personal beliefs about money. One spouse earning more than the other, particularly in women, is most likely to be intimidating to men (Krause, 2008). If both don’t make enough, it is also liable to strain their relationship due to the expensive lifestyle to maintain in the region. Finally, children or raising families are also separating issues for couples (Moon, 2011). They struggle to share responsibilities in the absence of a strong support system thus driving a wedge between people. Some may also conflict over whether to have and raise children in the country or their country of origin.
Rules about divorce
Most of the divorce decrees in UAE are based on their majority population of Muslims, and the country being an Islamic state. The state can grant a man divorce when he declares “I divorce thee” to his spouse (Moller, 2014). However, women are not allowed the same rule unless under exceptional circumstances such as violence, failure to keep up with family maintenance, or abandonment. Women can also seek divorce through “Khula” which provides them with the right to be released from the commitment, but in this case, the female loses dowry (Moller, 2014). Khula is granted when a spouse proves in a local court that the husband has failed to show commitment to marriage.
In the case of expats, the nation’s Personal Status Law states that both parties have the option to use their home country’s laws when petitioning for divorce as provided for in Article 1 of the said decree. It declares that the law’s provisions apply to UAE citizens except for non-Muslims who have different requirements that apply to their religion (Moller, 2014). These rules apply equally to all non-citizens except when one of them requests for their home country’s law application in the process. For the non-citizens, most people are faced with the challenge of determining which laws to apply, but most legal practitioners give advice according to the case. UAE courts favor women who are breadwinners seeking for custody of their children and their assets in full (Welchman, 2011). In this case, the wife will retain her property and keep the kids without paying for the husband’s upkeep. In the case of joint property outside the country, it is more advisable for the couple to seek the other state’s counsel and proper application. The process is also applicable nonetheless to people of the same foreign country. When two spouses are of different nationalities, the UAE upholds the decree of the husband (Moller, 2014).
Many factors come into play during the separation process such as child care, asset management, and wills. The UAE refers to child care as “Hadana” which is Arabic for guarding, protecting and educating a child (Al-Gharaibeh, 2015). Children can be taken care of by either a guardian or a custodian, and the law gives a precise definition of both roles. The guardian is responsible for financial and educational security whereas the custodian is in charge of a child’s daily physical comfort (Al-Gharaibeh, 2015). UAE laws do not offer joint custody, but traditionally place the mother as the custodian and the father as the guardian only if the woman does not remarry. Upon remarrying, care is given to the mother’s sister or the next closest female kin (Moller, 2014). Boys are allowed to live with their mothers until they turn eight years, and 13 years for the girls. The father can then subsequently gain custody of the children. The court has the discretion of choosing to extend this period according to the children’s interests. Foreign laws are not applicable to UAE because the country was not a Civil; Aspects of Child Abduction participant during the Hague Convention (1980) (Rashid & Tahboob, 1998). The international rule is also not applicable to foreign-based parents who have been given joint guardianship by their home laws. Due to this, the number of child abduction cases involving parents has risen significantly.
The UAE Articles 143 and 144 of Federal Laws state that a custodian must be rational, mature enough past puberty, honest, without dangerous conditions, and crime free (Moller, 2014). The mother must also stay separated and share the father’s religion. The guardian or father must have a suitable female to care for the child and have a similar religion (Welchman, 2011). Another provision states that the father determines a child’s religion, and the mother has to be Muslim to be eligible for custody (Jamal & Langohr, 2009) If she’s from a different religion, the court has the right to annul her custody. The divorced woman is also not permitted to travel outside the country with children without the father’s written approval (Bromfield, 2014). Nonetheless, the mother can relocate to a different town in the country as long as the child’s education is not impeded, and the father does not suffer unnecessary hardship.
On a positive aspect, Emirati laws highly regard a child’s welfare in the divorce process. If a father complains that his former spouse is unfit to care for the children, they both undergo a rigorous testing and screening process to clear both parties as being honest, capable, of sound mind, and without a criminal history to determine the most suitable custodian (Cullingham & Skillingstead, 2015). The guardian is also allowed to apply for visitation rights and granted regular access to the children. Therefore, it is impossible for the custodian to relocate to another state because she prevents the father from having access to the children.
Divorce applicants are required to open a file indicating their decision to split at the court. They then meet a conciliator who determines whether the two parties can resolve their separation amicably and if not, they proceed to courts. The stipulated time for the process to conclude takes anywhere from three months onwards depending on the situation and the nature of the relationship’s damage. Parents can avoid or deviate from the laws by setting their terms during the agreement stage which is then filed together with the annulment application with the local courts.
The stage comprises of all procedures, tactics, and methods used in data collection, examination, and explanation of results. Research methods will be further defined and verified during the information gathering process, population assessment and measurement scales. The procedure also encompasses a blend of analysis procedures that will generate a more comprehensive grasp of the research. Some of the available mixed method approaches and strategies when conducting a research are:
- Explanatory (illustrative) and exploratory (experimental)
- Convergent parallel
- Embedded and transformative
The mixed methods design is appropriate for this study because it pulls from both qualitative and quantitative data analysis systems. It also runs more data and decreases factors restraining the study due to its intricacy and allows for the comparison of diverse schools of thought to produce an all-inclusive study.
An initial exploratory research was conducted to discover new angles on the issues about divorce prevalence in the country, and how to best ease the separation process. The primary tool for exploratory research will be literature review in the form of case studies, statistics, reports, journals, and scholarly articles on the same. The research design is described as the foundation plan for any research study. It involves the study category, sub-category, premises and variables, and the investigation blueprint hence shedding light on all the steps taken to use in exploring the hypothesis of the study. The design of this investigation takes on various methods for dual qualitative and quantitative information gathering and analysis. The research presented interviews, historical accounts, reflection notes and documents as qualitative data whereas the latter was presented in the form of numeric files, instrument data, and check lists.
The suitable study population was about a standard figure of 1000 people, and the appropriate study sample to represent this group was some 50 people, 35 women, and 15 men. Out of this number, ten women and five men were UAE noncitizens. Primary data was collected through interviews and personal narrations of their experience whereas secondary statistical data on divorce was gathered from the National Statistics Bureau and related documents.
Before conducting the field study, it was imperative to have enough material to make a comparison. For example, before interviewing on the causes of divorce, there was a need to prepare a checklist to match the library information to the new data collected. This information was then analyzed, and the results produced from the available evidence.
The study results were categorized according to the objectives of determining the prevalence of divorce and it causes to find ways on how to curb it, and exploring the divorce process and finding ways on how to smoothen it for both citizens and noncitizens of UAE. The results were further sub-categorized as shown below:
Causes of divorce as stated by men
While searching for the causes of divorce among married UAE couples, the research focused on causes as presented by men, women, citizens, and expats. The few people who participated in the study stated that their main reasons for divorce include incompatibility, infidelity, and failure to fulfill marital responsibilities. Further probing from both citizens and expats revealed that men indicated the role of women in marriage as being homemakers, domestic heads, and children nurturers. 90% of them did not mind if their wives stayed at home to take care of the household instead of being career people. It was also the woman’s duty to be loyal, faithful, obedient, and submissive. Any act outside or going outside any of the given roles was viewed as a failure in the role of being a wife. On the issues that were considered as failures, 55% said absconding domestic duties was the primary cause of tension in the marriage, 30% said disrespect and lack of submission, and 15% stated that they were not satisfied by their women in the union. It is interesting to note that they all agreed that they could tolerate a lady who does not meet their sexual needs, but they cannot tolerate a disrespectful or disloyal wife. Even though sex is a primary need for men, 90% were willing to make the marriage work but find the pleasure elsewhere whereas the remaining 10% were ready to stay in the union and remain faithful to their wives.
The expats confirmed the hypothesis by stating that the leading cause of tensions leading to divorce from their end is cultural differences. It took up 55% of the total percentage in the poll, and was followed by financial strain taking 30%, poor communication taking 10% and unmanaged expectations accounted for 5% of the causes of divorce.
Causes of divorce as stated by women
On the other hand, women also gave their reasons for issues that made them consider divorce. The top reason was incompatibility to due forced or arranged marriages. Others included financial stability, lack of freedom, poor communication, infidelity, and mismatched expectations. It is interesting to note that women were more accommodative of infidelity than their counterparts
A larger percentage of the population study was disgruntled and dissatisfied with the divorce process and rules governing the UAE except for a few local men. 84% of the study population including men and women stated that they were not impressed by the divorce rules in the country. They stated them as being unpopular, outdated, biased, and ineffective. Only six men and one female in the sample reported that they were satisfied with how the country conducted marriage annulment. The unifying factor for these two groups was that they were dissatisfied because the laws were not in the best interest of the children. From their experience, both children and parents suffered because they preferred joint custody that the state refused to offer. 98% of the women also said that even though they had custody, and the men had guardianship, their former spouses always used the money factor to control any decisions regarding the children and their upkeep or development.
The woman only becomes an enforcer of the man’s desires, and they exploit this opportunity to make the women suffer because they are the primary providers. The remaining 2% stated that they were not disturbed or affected by the arrangement. However, they said that the only solution to this problem was for the women to get jobs so that they do not have to rely on men for the provision of basic needs. They reiterated that the males feel threatened when a woman is empowered and that it was the only solution to their situation in a world in which women are treated as inferior.
Both groups also widely felt that it was unfair to require the woman not to marry, or if she did, she had to relinquish her custody rights over her children. They stated that they still played a significant role in children’s lives and they should not be separated from their children even after remarrying.
Limitations and Ethical Considerations
Due to the delicacy of the issue of shame associated with divorce among women, finding participants became a challenge during the research. Most of them preferred to keep their stories to themselves believing that talking about their former husbands was offensive according to their culture. There were a few bold people who were willing to talk but only after assurance that their identity would be hidden. The team had to rely heavily on a limited source of records and statistics from articles and publications. Getting information directly from courts was also a challenge due to the sensitive and private nature of divorce cases. Therefore, most of the information was sourced from open libraries. Another limitation was that the perception in the country is that women are to blame for the divorce. The research was almost biased because the majority of its participants were females. The biggest ethical consideration in this research is privacy. This factor was secured by ensuring the participants stayed anonymous through signing an informed consent form.
First of all, the society needs to accept the changes that occur due to urbanization and change its mentality towards marriage, traditions, and the gender roles in the relationship. This will be the hardest task due to the level at which traditional and religious values have been upheld in the country for generations. The best approach to take is to acknowledge the change and make adjustments in a way that still supports their morals, beliefs, and values. For example, if a marriage ends, the woman also has an equal stake in property especially when the husband is responsible for the separation. This does not mean that the country will do away with the beliefs upon which it sets its foundation, but that it is willing to be flexible enough to take care of its citizen’s changing needs. A country’s top priority should be to cater to its residents’ needs and not to oppress them.
Secondly, the country needs to reevaluate its laws regarding the divorce process for both citizens and expats. These laws were founded upon traditional rules where women played a traditional role in marriage. Nowadays, they have evolved to become both homemakers and providers in their families. Therefore, the laws should also recognize their significance.
Thirdly, even though the law stipulates the importance of the child’s welfare during separation, no parent is superior to the other. The children need both parents for emotional, physical, spiritual, and educational growth. Therefore, the laws should allow for joint custody. It should also provide children who are old enough to understand the process with the choice of which parent they preferred to stay with to avoid further emotional or psychological distress. The law favors men to the point that the father may not be physically or emotionally available to cater for their children but will still be granted with custody.
Fourthly, it is commendable that the police take part in solving social issues. However, it is advisable to appoint other social bodies or professionals to lead and conduct the awareness and educational programs on social and marital challenges. The police are primarily tasked with maintaining security and order in a country thus making other duties secondary to that of security. They are likely to have less time, resources, or the know-how to handle sensitive cases such as marriage. The role should be left to skilled and experienced social workers, educators, and counselors.
The marriage institution can still be salvaged if the partners are willing to resolve their issues together and patiently. Couples should be encouraged to be more open with one another and to disclose their feelings or dissatisfactions honestly. Open communication is a starting point towards the healing process of the couple. They should then outline each other’s expectations for their roles in marriage and have a healthy and mature discussion on how to handle their differences. Most couples fail because they give up on the communication without realizing that perfection in marriage is a working progress.
Finally, it is evident that divorce has a significant impact on children, families and those involved in the separation. To prevent this figure from rising, the society needs to be educated to embrace the changes such as abandoning arranged marriages and allowing women to thrive economically and socially. Marriage should not be an institution forced on people but a conscious choice that allows them to separate their love, partnership, and shared interests on their terms.
Every country faces different social challenges, recurring from one nation to another depending on their development rate and cultural assimilations. The UAE has indicated a growing trend in divorce cases, leading to the need to conduct this study. According to contemporary literature, the common causes of divorce include infidelity, urbanization, poor communication, failed and mismatched expectations in marriage, and failure to recognize the changing gender roles in society. The country also has unfavorable laws in conducting this divorce, prompting the need to carry out research to establish recommended options according to the people involved in the study. The reasons leading to divorce remained the same, with men stating failure to fulfill marital roles as their primary reason, and women blaming it on incompatibility due to arranged marriages. The country needs to accept the change and adjust its laws in line with the peoples’ needs and changing trends to serve its citizens better, without necessarily altering their basic foundation on marriage and morality
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