DATA from the most recent Population and Housing Census might have shown that divorces have increased by up to 60 per cent between 2001 and 2011, but that is of little consequence to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which argues that the country's complicated divorce procedures are harmful to women.
The committee, during a recent meeting with a group of Jamaican policymakers in New York, said it was concerned, "about the complicated procedures for divorce within the state, which provides that the parties must be married for a minimum of two years and de facto separated for one year, and that the courts, rather than the parties, would decide whether to grant the divorce based on the irreparable rupture of the marriage and only after a period of six months."
According to the Matrimonial Causes Act, a divorce might be sought in the Supreme Court on the basis that the union has broken down irreparably. The court will allow the dissolution only if it is satisfied that the couple involved had lived separately on a continuous period of no less than 12 months immediately preceding the date of filing the petition to dissolve their marriage.
"A decree of dissolution of marriage shall not be made if the court is satisfied that there is a reasonable likelihood of cohabitation being resumed," the Act states.
However, in reference to the law regarding divorce in Jamaica, the committee said it was concerned, "that these complicated and extensive proceedings are harmful to women, particularly in cases of abusive relationships, and where women may not have the same resources as men."
Given its concern, the committee recommended that Jamaica review the legislation and procedures regarding divorce, with a view to simplifying the process and ensuring that women are not placed in harmful situations due to restrictive legal proceedings.
Another point of concern for the committee is the fact that about 40 per cent of households in the island are headed by females and that the burden of care for children fall solely on the shoulders of these single mothers. This, they said, continued to be the case, because of "cultural factors as well as legal and administrative inadequacies concerning child maintenance and a lack of participation by men."
So as to ensure equality in marriage and family relations, the committee called upon the government to amend the legal provisions to strengthen protection and support for women in common-law unions, and to review the procedures for child maintenance to ensure that single mothers are provided with adequate and timely child maintenance.