All Woman

Separated and unhappy because divorce is costly

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE

Monday, July 28, 2014    

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GETTING married is easy: You can choose a church and go elaborate and expensive, or you can save money by simply getting an officiant and a couple of witnesses and voila, you can be man and wife in as little as half an hour. But getting divorced is hard, so much harder than getting married, in fact, that many couples are choosing to enter long-term separations rather than face the arduous process.

"When I realised what I had to go through for a divorce I just decided I wasn't going to bother with it," Bernice F told All Woman.

"I decided that since I was not getting into another relationship anytime soon I just couldn't bother. I told my husband that he was free to go ahead and start the proceedings if he wanted to, but I couldn't bother."

Bernice said she has been married for a total of 17 years, but has been separated for seven of those.

"I called one lawyer's office and they told me it would cost me $90,000. Mi really couldn't bother with that," Bernice said. Thus she said she never attempted a divorce even though she wanted to be totally free from an abusive and stagnant relationship.

Melinda B's story is similar -- she is stuck in a marriage with a "virtual stranger" because neither party can afford the divorce process.

"We sleep in separate rooms; he has his girlfriend, I have my man," she said. "We've been married for 12 years and I want a divorce but we have no money. Plus I don't want any argument over who will get what. Hopefully I will outlive him and get the house for me and the children, without having to bother with a divorce."

For Harold, who is contemplating crawling through the process to make provisions for his children after his wife, from whom he has been separated 23 years, recently took up with a new man, just the quote from the attorney he consulted left him floored.

"Seventy grand. Now where will I find that kind of money? But I have to consider it even though I didn't think of it before, because I don't want this many to lay claim to my property," he said. "I don't think my wife is entitled to half, and I want to set things clear legally before she does."

The legal avenues for getting a divorce in Jamaica are limited to getting a private lawyer to represent you or getting legal aid, which is partly covered by the State.

The process:

1. You have to be married for two years or more in order to petition for divorce. This can be waived in certain circumstances.

2. You must have separated and lived separately continuously for a year before filing.

3. If these requirements are met, you must retain the services of a lawyer, preferably one who specialises in divorce.

4. The divorce petition is filed in the Supreme Court by the attorney.

5. If the divorce is approved, a decree nisi will be granted, and six weeks later, the decree absolute. The decree absolute can be stalled if there are issues with child custody or division of property.

Attorney-at-law Annette Johnson said the cost of a divorce privately ranges from between $75,000 to $100,000.

She said while the courts are sometimes overburdened, persons should be able to get the matter finalised within six to nine months if all the documents are in order.

The dissolution of the marriage is one thing, another is dealing with situations when there is wrangling over property.

"You can have a divorce finalised before you have actually dealt with the property," Johnson pointed out. "So the marriage will be at an end and then you make arrangements as to who the children should live with and how they are to be supported by the non-custodial parent."

Johnson, who has been practising for 20 years, said persons may not readily move towards a divorce after a break-up if they don't see the need.

"I was separated for four going on five years and I never made any move to divorce until I met my present husband," Olivine B explained. "I never really saw the need to. I wouldn't really say it was the cost. It's just that there was no need to."

"...It depends on what the new partner wants; most new partners are not going to stick with somebody who is not divorced," Johnson added.

Olivine said she could not afford the cost of the divorce through a private lawyer and so acquired the services of Legal Aid. That cost her $30,000, with a two-year wait.

"I do a lot of divorces and from my experience -- because divorce involves an individual's very personal and intimate life, they tend to find the money for it," Johnson explained.

She also warned persons about separating, then moving to form new long-term relationships without getting divorced.

"They could be together for 10 years but they would never be considered a common-law couple with the attendant rights and privileges of a common-law couple under the Property Rights of Spouses Act and under the Intestacy Rules," Johnson said.

"There is a danger in remaining undivorced; it's very untidy. People sometimes have religious feelings about divorcing; sometimes guys don't want to divorce because they don't want to appear to be the bad guy, so they will flaunt the other woman in front of the wife, treat her disrespectfully, but they are not willing to go ahead and do the divorce because that makes them the bad guy. But there are many disadvantages to people remaining undivorced."

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