15 November 2018Last updated


Know your rights

Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power. Our team of experts answer some of your most commonly asked questions about how to look after yourself — and your family

By Catherine Harper
12 Apr 2016 | 01:51 pm
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What’s a DIFC will and why might I need one?

Essentially, a DIFC will is one drawn up in accordance with DIFC guidelines and registered with the new DIFC Wills and Probate Registry in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry provides a first-of-its-kind service that allows eligible individuals the ability to register their English-language wills according to the principles of testamentary freedom, meaning the freedom to dispose of their property upon their death as they see fit, and to designate guardians for their minor children.

An eligible individual can formally register his/her drafted Will with the DIFC WPR in a simple one-hour personal appointment which is booked online. A single Will registration covering Dubai assets and guardianship costs Dh10,000. Mirror wills, meaning similar wills made by a married couple, cost Dh15,000 for both.

The will appoints an executor, a party who can be either a company or person that the individual making the will fully trusts. The executor is then responsible for administering the estate and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries listed in the Will. — Mihaela Moldoveanu

If I have a regular will from my home country, will it be recognised and applied by Dubai Courts? And what will happen if I don’t have a will at all?

All the Courts of Inheritance in the UAE are presided over by Sharia judges at present. The principles of Islam dictate that assets are distributed as per Islamic principles, regardless of what is stated in the will of the deceased (if there is one). This means it doesn’t matter what is stated in an expatriate’s will; the Sharia Courts of First Instance will apply the Sharia principles of forced heirship. Simply having your will translated into Arabic and attested doesn’t render it Sharia-compliant. — Cynthia Trench

What’s a guardianship document and why do I need one?

A guardianship document is a document that ensures your intentions are communicated effectively when it comes to the care of your children, should the unthinkable happen and they are left without either parent or both. The guardianship document allows parents to nominate two residents here in the UAE to care for their child/children during the interim period following an emergency situation, until permanent guardians can be appointed.

A temporary guardianship document is important for two reasons:

1 If something were to happen to the father, according to Sharia law the wife is not actually the first guardian of her children; guardianship falls to the oldest living blood male relative on the paternal side. It’s important to note, here, UAE law makes a clear distinction between the roles of the guardian and custodian; the guardian is charged with securing the child’s finances, education and other important affairs, while the custodian, on the other hand, is person who physically takes care of the child from day to day.

Following the death of a husband, a court case will determine the custody of the children. In most instances the mother will be granted custodianship whilst the eldest male blood relative will receive guardianship, and guardianship supersedes custodianship under Sharia Law.

2 If something were to happen to both parents, it is important to have nominated two residents who are based in the UAE, to be appointed temporary guardians for an interim period until permanent guardianship can be implemented.

There are three types of guardianship documentation that you can put in place to ensure that your family is safeguarded; a Civil Agreement, a DIFC Will and a UAE Will legalised by the Dubai Court. The guardianship process can be time-consuming, and starting off the process with a simple Civil Agreement can ensure peace of mind. While it’s not a legally binding document - compared to a DIFC or UAE will, which are both legally binding - we’ve found that in several cases where the worst has happened, if some form of document or process was in place to state the deceased or incapacitated person’s intentions for their children, this was enough to allow a child to be cared for by the nominated guardian.

The most important part of the guardianship process is how you distribute this document once completed, regardless of which process you choose. The idea behind this document is for it to be physically presented by the guardians nominated, in case of an emergency. It’s therefore important to give physical copies to both guardians nominated, a copy to the nursery or school that your child or children attend, and also to the Human Resources Department of the company that sponsors your visa, as they would be the first ones to find out if an unfortunate event has occurred.

It’s also important to remember any changes to guardians should be noted immediately in whichever document you’ve drawn up, to ensure it remains current. — Danielle Suchley

Can I get divorced in the UAE if I didn’t get married here and I’m not Muslim?

Yes; as long as you live, work or are domiciled in the UAE. Whether your divorce petition is heard under Sharia law or the law of your home country depends on a number of factors and competent legal advice should be sought. — Madeleine Mendy

If I get divorced here, is there a risk I might lose custody of my children?

Under Sharia law, children remain in the custody of their mother until the age of 11 for boys and 13 for girls. After this age, the father can apply for custody to be returned to him. — Madeleine Mendy

Do I need my own alcohol licence if my husband already has one?

Yes. Since the facility for a husband to provide his wife with an NOC to use his licence was discontinued last year, all non-Muslim expatriates wishing to buy, transport and store alcohol for personal consumption must now have their own licence. Women wishing to apply for one will simply need an NOC from their husband as well as all standard documentation. — Damon Tudor

Who can have an alcohol licence and what does the licence cover?

Alcohol licences are available to non-Muslim expatriates over 21 years of age, resident in Dubai with a monthly salary in excess of Dh3,000 (or women sponsored by husbands earning in excess of Dh3,000). An alcohol licence allows you to legally purchase alcohol from either African&Eastern or MMI, transport it to your home, store it and consume it. Although you can legally buy alcohol without a licence in Umm al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah, your alcohol licence won’t cover you for transporting it back to Dubai. Remember Sharjah is a dry emirate and transporting alcohol through there is completely illegal. — Damon Tudor

Can I work part-time or freelance for a company while I’m on my husband’s sponsorship?

You may not work from home, even part-time, whilst under your husband’s sponsorship without obtaining a labour card and employment contract with an employer. Depending on the agreement with your employer, as well as the jurisdiction, you may choose to obtain a labour card or a temporary work permit. Both authorisations will allow you to work part-time, and will require your husband to sign a no objection certificate. Should you decide to change your immigration sponsorship to your employer, you can do this. If your employer is based in a free zone within the same emirate, they may transfer your sponsorship to an employment residence permit. Alternatively, if the employer is outside the free zones, then your dependent’s residence permit would have to be cancelled before your employer submits your immigration application. — Marcin Kubarek

I want to start my own business from home. Can I do this legally if I’m on my husband’s sponsorship?

Running a business in the UAE requires you to obtain a trade license. You would need to register your business with a selected licensing authority (e.g. a free zone authority or the Department of Economic Development) and obtain the license. Depending on the jurisdiction of your business, you may have to rent an office space, or at least a flexi-desk, so it’s unlikely you could operate entirely from home. Once you’ve been fully set up, you would need to secure appropriate work authorisation which, again, depends on the location of your business. If you’re actively working and managing the business, you would generally be required to change your visa status to that of an employee or investor, under the sponsorship of your newly established entity. Alternatively, subject to the jurisdiction’s regulations, you may be allowed to remain on your husband’s sponsorship, but obtain a labour card through your business entity. In case of applying for a labour card, your husband will be required to provide you with a no objection certificate. — Marcin Kubarek

Can I have my own bank account and credit card if I’m on my husband’s visa and don’t work?

Yes, you can. The terms vary from bank to bank, but it’s definitely possible to have your own account. Emirates NBD, for example, allow you to have your own account as long as a balance of Dh3000 is maintained monthly. You can also have a credit card, as long as a fixed deposit is placed against it. HSBC, meanwhile, allow you to have a savings account with a debit card. With both, there is no need to provide a no objection certificate (NOC) from your husband. That’s, of course, just two examples, but as mentioned the terms really do vary depending on the bank. It’s always best to compare all the options available to you to ensure you get the best product for your needs. — Sonja Stephen

If I lose my job and can’t pay my credit card bills, what happens?

If you find yourself in this position, it’s essential to recognise and acknowledge the fact you have a situation which needs to be dealt with immediately. Burying you head in the sand and hoping it will go away will only make matters worse. Book an appointment with an advisor at a branch of your bank ASAP and explain your situation to them fully. They will then be able to offer guidance and a solution.

If your card has insurance, or if you opted to take out card insurance, some of the outstanding debt may be accounted for by the bank. However, either way the remaining debt will need to be dealt with. If a regular salary stops going into your bank account there will be repercussions, in the form of a charge (which will only increase any outstanding debt) or worse, the whole account and cards being frozen. — Sonja Stephen

The experts

Sonja Stephen Founder of

Madeleine Mendy Solicitor in family law, James Berry Associates

Cynthia Trench Principal, Trench & Associates

Mihaela Moldoveanu Senior manager, DIFC Wills and Probate Registry

Danielle Suchley Founder, Kids Initiative

Damon Tudor General manager, group retail and corporate marketing

By Catherine Harper

By Catherine Harper