Divorce in DUBAI and UK: The Need For Blame?

19th November 2019 Family Law

First came Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament, then a general election, the progress of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill appears to have been one of the of the casualties of our political disquiet. Some might say that there is nothing so representative of our times as a reluctance to remove blame in personal life when public life seems dominated by it; we live in a time of divorce and divorce is ugly.

At the extreme end of the present fault based system of divorce is the “behaviour petition “ where one spouse is said by the other to have “ behaved in such a way that (she) cannot reasonably be expected to live with him”

Most expatriates, usually husbands going through divorce, will have been on the receiving end of just such a document for both practical and tactical reasons .

While fault still exists, the usual historic practice of family lawyers in England and Wales in was to “ agree” the language of blame before sending the paperwork to the court. The much publicised case of Mr and Mrs Owens last year upset things as the “ anodyne “ wording that everyone had been accustomed to was replaced by more brutal and descriptive language to prevent the divorce being rejected (as not tough enough).

For the expatriate divorce this has had consequences. European law says that between EU members , timing is everything and that if competing spouses issue proceedings in different countries but one minute apart from the other , then subject to to a credible means of attack , all financial (and possibly children) issues connected to the marriage breakdown will be dealt with by the country of the spouse who won the “ divorce race”.

England’s (London`s) reputation as a jurisdiction of choice for the weaker economic party to a marriage has meant that any chance of knocking the process out is regularly taken. As a consequence , those wishing not only to win but to enjoy the spoils of their divorce race victory will always base the divorce on “ behaviour “ and craft the wording of the divorce papers with extreme prejudice .A combination of surprise (warning is never given in these situations) and the unpalatable language of blame, makes a poor start to an unhappy process.

In the UAE divorce law is found in The Federal Law (28) 2005 of Personal Status.For the non Muslim expatriate, the choices are very similar in that a reason for ending a marriage must be given (blame / fault/ adultery/ other impediment) and the judge , if a required process of court assisted reconciliation fails, must decide if the behaviour is “bad” enough to allow the divorce to go ahead.

What constitutes a good reason for divorce in the UAE was apparently tested last summer when uniquely , it is reported, that a wife asked for a divorce from her husband “because his love was too much for her to bear“. The wife complained that she was “choked by extreme love and affection. He even helped me clean the house...... I long for one day of disputes, but this seems impossible with my romantic husband who always forgave me and showered me with gifts”

In his defence the husband is reported as having explained a “wish to be a perfect and kind husband “ .

Adopting an approach from which the courts of England and Wales (and perhaps our politicians) could learn, the judge has directed an adjournment to give the couple a further chance of reconciliation.

Michael Rowlands is one of a handful of UK family lawyers with many years experience advising expatriate families in the Gulf States and beyond.

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