Dear Mrs Macaulay,
I have been having problems with my husband for the past few years which led to me leaving on January 8 this year. I was warned that if I didn't leave I would be killed. I decided to pack my bags and take whatever I could and leave. I lived with my husband from March 1996 to January 2012. We have been married for 11 years. We dated from August 1992 until we started living together after I got pregnant in 1996. I did all the house chores, paid the electricity, water and cable bills. We operated a grocery store which is his business. I want to know what are my rights as a wife, and whether it was fair for me to be kicked out after my years of hard work.
You know, sometimes I feel quite disheartened and frustrated by letters like yours. I feel this way because it seems that I keep saying the same thing over and over, and not only me, as this issue of domestic violence is frequently and widely covered in the media. I therefore wonder whether some people are not reading and not listening to discussions about this issue of domestic violence, and absorbing information about where to go for help and what can be done about it under the law.
You seem to be an intelligent and capable woman, so where have you been? Were you not paying attention to what has been frequently mentioned, discussed and written about since 1995, when the Domestic Violence Act was passed? Not paying attention to information can often result in one's rights being violated and one being left without a remedy.
Have you never heard of the Family Court? Have you never heard of other wives and spouses who have been abused and have gotten protective orders made to keep them safe?
Did you not know that the threat he made is a crime? Did you report it to the police?
Anyway, my dear, let me now help you know what your rights are in the circumstances you have related.
Firstly, you have the right to prosecute him for the threat on your life, as I have already mentioned.
Secondly, and additionally, and maybe even more importantly for you now, you have the right to go to the Family Court, if there is one in your parish, or to the Resident Magistrate's Court, and make an application for protection orders, an occupation order and ancillary orders under the Domestic Violence Act. You also need to apply for a maintenance order at the same time because of the amendment of the Domestic Violence Act, which provided for this to be done.
The protection orders are to keep him away from you and to make him stop doing acts which are abusive and which are predicated to cause you annoyance. The occupation order will enable you to go back home and will put him out.
The situation you have suffered and gone through is exactly what the Domestic Violence Act was conceived and passed to deal with. It was to ensure that the victims of abuse should be the ones who remain in the family home, rather than having to run off in fear, while the perpetrator of the violence remains there. So it enabled the court to order the perpetrator out and leave the victim(s) in the home.
The ancillary orders are to enable you to use any of the contents of the home which may be his during the currency of the occupation order.
When these orders are made, and because of the clear threat to your life, your application ought to be an ex parte one. If you are going to make these applications you must do so immediately, as you left in January, almost five months ago.
Thirdly, you have the right to be maintained by him, so you should apply for what you need to live at a standard similar to that you had when you were together. You can and should apply for this even if you decide not to apply for orders under the Domestic Violence Act.
Fourthly, you have the right to apply under the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act, to the court (Supreme or Family Court) for declarations of your interests and shares in the family home and in the grocery business and any other property acquired during your time together. You must do so now, before the end of December 2012, in order to have your application filed within the time required and handled under this Act.
By way of this Act you are presumptively entitled to 50 per cent interest in the family home and whatever percentage of interest in all other property as ordered by the court. It matters not that the properties and the business are registered in his name only or belong to him only. You have clearly contributed to the business and therefore to the acquisition of other property, if any, and to the running of the home as you did the housework and paid some bills.
So please get yourself a lawyer immediately so that your applications can be prepared and filed within the limitation period. Do not be afraid that you cannot get a lawyer because you do not have money, the legal profession will always act for clients in your circumstances. Do not let any such consideration prevent you from taking steps to uphold your legal rights and get protection, and, also in order for you to obtain what are your legal and rightful property entitlements (real and personal property).
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. Mrs Macaulay cannot give advice via e-mail.
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.