Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I am an American woman who resides in the USA. I married a Jamaican man in December 2019 who lives in Duncan's, Trelawny. I believe my marriage is a fraud and I got married under duress. I thought he was serious about the relationship, but I have since come to find out that he is a fraud and he stole the money I gave him to pay the wedding planner and now she's saying that I owe her more money. He's extremely dishonest and wants me for my money. He believes that because I am American I have a lot of money to give away, but I do not make a lot of money and I am a single parent of three kids. He is also verbally abusive and he only wants to get a visa to come to America. He is a scammer I believe and I beg you to help me get out of this horrible mistake. I had been married just six days when this happened. Please tell me what to do or who to call. I called the pastor but got no answer or returned call.
Please help me. I know I was a fool but I just want to end this before it's too late. Thank you.
I have noted the contents of your letter and sympathise with the position in which you find yourself. The language you have used to describe your husband after only a short period of marriage illustrates how devastated you must have felt following the discovery you made about his intention, dishonest and abusive conduct, and his true character. It is clear that your marriage, as far as you are concerned, was irretrievably broken down within days of your wedding. As a result you wish to cut the ties and you sought to contact the pastor who officiated to no avail.
I must explain what the law says you must do to end your marriage, which you have described as a fraud, because the intention of your husband was not to have a loving and meaningful marriage and familial relationship with you, but to obtain a US visa and to obtain monies from you. You also allege that you went through the ceremony of your wedding under duress, but you gave no facts of what led you to this conclusion. In order to rely on duress, you must have facts to prove the allegation to the court; as indeed you must do in relation to that of fraud. By using the words 'fraud' and 'duress' you are seeking to rely on the law relating to nullity rather than a dissolution of your marriage. You are alleging that your consent to the marriage was not a valid one because it was obtained by both fraud and duress. This suggests to me that you have either obtained advice from someone who is leaning towards a nullity suit, or you checked the Act and saw these provisions.
What then should you do when you found after only a few days that your marriage is a sham and you wish to end such a union? You have not stated whether you have returned to the USA or whether you are still here in Jamaica with your husband. You have also not mentioned where you and your husband resided after your marriage ceremony and whether you are still residing in the same household. Though you have said nothing about the consummation of your marriage, I am assuming that you and your husband did so. You have also not stated whether you have ceased cohabiting with your husband, nor have you stated whether you have made it clear to him that the marriage is over. If you have concluded that you wish to end your marriage you cannot continue cohabiting with him. In other words, you cannot continue having sexual relations with him. You could, in law, remain under the same roof as he, and even cook and give him food and such, but no sex. You must prove to the court that your separation was at a particular date and that your marriage irretrievably broke down, and the cause of this, and that since you separated you have not had any relations with him, and that you have remained separate and apart from the date of your separation.
The law which applies is the Matrimonial Causes Act. Under this Act, applications by way of petitions can be made to the Supreme Court for decrees of nullity of marriage or for dissolution of marriage. If you decide to petition the court for a decree of nullity of your marriage, you will have to prove to and convince the court that your husband's intent in marrying you was fraudulent and that you did not know of it and accepted it at the time you consented and went through the ceremony. You must also sufficiently prove the duress you allege. Merely stating these words is not enough. You must also disclose whether or not your marriage was consummated and for how long, and prove that your consent to sexual contact was obtained fraudulently and/or by duress with the particulars of these allegations clearly stated.
In my view, you would be on safer ground if you decided to proceed with a dissolution of your marriage in that it irretrievably broke down six days after your marriage ceremony because of his theft of the marriage planner's money which you had given to him to pay over on your behalf, and explain the circumstances of the duress you allege. Also mention the fact of your separation and living separate and apart from that date, and that there is no likelihood of you resuming cohabiting with him. You can, however, only file your petition after you have lived separate and apart from him for a continuous period of 12 months before the date of filing your petition. The Act also requires that if you wish to apply for your marriage to be dissolved within two years of the date of your marriage, you must apply for leave of the court to do so. You must in the application for leave detail evidence of the fact that you got counselling from an approved counsellor to see if the marriage could be saved, and also state any special circumstances of your situation to justify the court dealing with the matter before the expiration of the two years statutory period.
The fact that you have three children for whom you are responsible could, in my view, be used to establish special circumstances. It can be alleged and argued that the continuance of the marriage is prejudicial to the best interests of your children. For instance, if anything happens to you during the full statutory period, he would be noted as your next of kin, and for someone untrustworthy, the children's interests to your estate would be in serious jeopardy.
Remember that any period of resumption of marital relations in order to try to save your marriage, which is not above three months, will not be taken into account when the court is considering whether the separation period has been continuous.
You must be scrupulously factual and honest in your application and the affidavit in support of your petition and application for leave. If you are not and the court so concludes, it could dismiss your application for leave and your petition, and you would then have to wait for the two years to expire before you can file again. Or, the court can grant the decree nisi but order that you must not apply for the decree to be made absolute until the two years from the date of your marriage has expired.
The most important advice I must give you, is that you should contact a lawyer here in Jamaica and give that lawyer your instructions in a full and detailed statement, with the facts which led to your marriage, detailing any utterances from which your husband's intention can be gleaned, his verbal abuses of you, his dishonest and fraudulent acts, and the details of your intimacy and when it ended, when you concluded your marriage had irretrievably broken down, the date when you separated from him, and all and any other matter of relevance. This is if you choose to proceed to dissolution of your marriage here in Jamaica or in the USA. Either way, you must seek the assistance of a lawyer there or here so that you can be correctly advised after your full and detailed disclosures to them.
The choice ultimately is yours after receipt of their advice. I hope I have clarified the matter for you so that you see more clearly what you must do as only a court of law can release you from your marriage. It cannot be done by calling anyone except a lawyer to assist you with the proceedings. I do hope you do as I suggest, so you can turn your attention fully to your children.
Best wishes to you and your children.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public, and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. All responses are published. Mrs Macaulay cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.