Expatriate Muslim father wins custody of daughters at Abu Dhabi court

Australian hails ruling by Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court after prolonged custody battle

The ruling has been described as a 'massive moment for the Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court'. Photo: Wam
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An Australian Muslim living in the UAE has been reunited with his two daughters after a prolonged legal battle.

The ruling by Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court is believed to be the first instance in the region of an expatriate Muslim father being granted full custody of his children, with the mother receiving only visiting rights.

The Abu Dhabi resident and his two daughters, who were seeking a child protection order against the mother, burst into tears when the ruling was announced.

It allows his daughters to live with him full-time and the mother can see them only with agreement from her ex-husband.

It shows a court that is willing to engage with complex children cases involving expatriates
Byron James, partner at Expatriate Law in Abu Dhabi

Speaking to The National under the pseudonym Peter, he said: "For an Abu Dhabi Court to take immediate action to protect my daughters means a lot to us.

"For an expatriate, it shows that the rule of law will prevail here and things will be done in the best interest of the children.

“This is comforting to expatriate families who have moved to Abu Dhabi and unfortunately have a parenting dispute … to have it resolved here, where both sides are heard, is really important.

"An important part of any decision to come here is the feeling that there is a rule of law, especially when it comes to protecting children.”

Peter moved to the UAE in 2017 and has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year. His former wife is a US citizen.

The couple were divorced in 2019 in Australia and the children then lived in the US with their allegedly abusive mother while Peter was in Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court heard the "complex" case. Before its formation in 2021, such cases would have been subject to the personal status law, which gives full custody to the mother unless she remarries.

“This is a massive moment for the Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court," Byron James, a partner at Expatriate Law in Abu Dhabi, told The National.

"It means that, as an expatriate, you can have your cases dealt with here instead of your home country where you might not have lived for many years.

"It shows a court that is willing to engage with complex children cases involving expatriates. The judge deserves a lot of praise for being so brave and child-focused."

Mr James went on to highlight the pioneering role of Abu Dhabi, where the legal system is "providing a jurisdiction for children in this situation and where no other jurisdiction exists".

"Can you imagine how many children living in the UAE whose parents are going through a divorce and, if not for the Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court, there would be no court looking after their welfare?" he said.

The only option would be to go through the criminal court, Mr James added, and “most parents don’t want to file a criminal case against their partner for the sake of their children".

Peter's daughters wrote letters of appeal to the judge asking that they remain with their father and not be sent back to their mother.

They claimed their mother caused them physical, mental and emotional harm.

Most of the legal sessions were held online since the mother lives in the US.

“We just cried. Nobody said anything,” Peter said of their reaction to the court's decision.

“That was our first reaction when we heard the ruling. There was such a huge sense of relief. That it was over. It is like a weight has been lifted.”

The court is in the process of registering the order in California which, The National understands, would be the first time an order of the Abu Dhabi Civil Family Court will have been endorsed by a court abroad.

The case remains subject to appeal.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 9:17 AM