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The 101 on Cohabiting in the UAE

Living together as friends or more than friends?

It’s been almost a year since the government announced amendments to a number of major personal and family laws that changed life in the UAE as we knew it. Covering a range of federal criminal laws – including divorce, cohabitation, women’s rights, and alcohol consumption – in a bid to improve living standards for the county’s multicultural residents, the sweeping changes have not only made a huge difference for current residents, but also those considering a move to the UAE. 

But nine months on, there’s still confusion surrounding exactly what is and isn’t legal when it comes to cohabitation – arguably the most significant in these law changes – and the potential outcome for couples who have a child out of wedlock. And that’s where our conversation with a family law specialist comes in.

“Prior to this amendment, cohabitation outside wedlock was prohibited in the Emirates,” explained Dr. Hassan Elhais, Legal Consultant at Dubai’s Al Rowaad Advocates. “The Federal Decree Law No.15 of 2020 amended certain provisions of the UAE Penal Code, with one of the significant changes to criminal law the amendment of Article 356, which allows consensual sex between adults. As a result of these changes, unmarried couples may live in cohabitation as long as they are consenting adults.”

While instances of prosecutions for unrelated men and women sharing a property were rare before the amendment to the law was passed, unmarried couples are now legally allowed to share a property without facing any repercussions.

“Since consensual sex outside of marriage is now legal in the UAE, it is not a crime to have a child out of wedlock anymore,” continues Dr.Hassan. However, this doesn’t mean that falling pregnant while unmarried is a straightforward process. “Obtaining a birth certificate for children born out of wedlock is still a challenge and not guaranteed in many cases, so it’s worth considering the fact that single mothers may face difficulty in getting a birth certificate for their newborns,” he explains.

As for sharing a property with friends who are literally just that – friends? “It’s important to note that the change in law is with regards to cohabitation or more commonly live-in relationships,” says Hassan. “Matters related to people sharing one property or shared accommodation remain unaffected by this change as landlords, Dubai Municipality, and competent Rental Dispute Centers are better placed to review these matters on a case-to-case basis.”

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