I’ve just come back from a much needed holiday in Dubai. It’s impossible not to be in awe of the enormity of it all and in particular, the excess: the incredible food, the shopping (there are more than 70 shopping malls, would you believe) the sheer height of the buildings – and of course the incredible number of ex-pats who live there.
Of course, as a global city and a business hub the latter is hardly surprising. But as I lay on my sunlounger, I got to thinking: because it’s such a cosmopolitan place it’s easy to forget that under United Arab Emirates (UAE) law, men and women who are not related to one another may not live together.
Indeed, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidelines for the visitors to UAE state quite clearly that “sex outside of marriage is illegal” and that “it is against the law to live together or share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married or closely related”.
I was curious to know what such a law does for the UAE’s marriage, and indeed divorce rate, but all the statistics I uncovered for it varied widely so it was impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy. However, I have known some expats persuade their other halves to move abroad with them with the express intention of divorcing them 12 months later. Why? Because although times have, thank goodness, changed and there is a greater move towards male and female financial equality, it is still generally the husband who is the higher earner and who therefore stands to lose the most in a UK divorce. A move abroad, with assets carefully stashed in a tax haven, is often part of a meticulously thought out plan for divorcing in the most financially advantageous way possible.
Of course, expats have to fulfil all kinds of criteria regarding residency and domicile when it comes to filing for divorce, but if a man fulfils those and starts proceedings in the UAE, whilst his English wife files for divorce in England, there would be a court hearing to decide which country to go ahead in. Evidence to support her case might include producing witnesses in England and perhaps the couple’s children attend boarding school in England too, in which case it's likely that the divorce would be heard there.
Ultimately, only a family lawyer experienced in international cases can deal with the complexities associated with such divorces.
Anyway, let me reassure you that I did have a lovely holiday and didn’t think about work all the time!
By Amanda McAlister.