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Shutting the Door – A Simplified Guide about Divorce

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By NEELA RAMSUNDAR

 

Thinking about tying the knot? Or wondering how to get out of a marital blooper? It may surprise you to know that sometimes it’s easier, (and perhaps cheaper) to get divorced than it is to get married.

Our laws do not permit an application for a divorce (called a petition for divorce) to be made until one year of marriage has passed. So yes, you’re locked in for an entire year (unless you can demonstrate to the Court that you are suffering exceptional hardship or your spouse is exceptionally depraved).

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You can only apply to the High Court for a divorce, with most being filed in the Family Court (a specialised division of the High Court). Lawyers are not necessary for this, but they are recommended. At the very least, consider consulting a lawyer for advice on how to proceed to get the best results. But if you’re going to bite the bullet and do it on your own, the judiciary’s website- ttlawcourts.org – has a useful section which contains forms that can be downloaded and used.

As long as one party to the marriage has been habitually residing in this country for at least one year prior, he or she can apply for the divorce.

If your spouse lives in another country, or you have no clue where they are – this is not necessarily a bar to getting divorced. Nor is being married elsewhere than in Trinidad and Tobago.

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A divorce will be granted only where the judge is satisfied the marriage has broken down irretrievably (with no hope for reconciliation). To demonstrate this, you have to satisfy the Court of at least one of five things:

  • that your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with him/her (the adulterer is joined as a party, called a co-defendant);
  • that your spouse behaved in such a way that you cannot be expected to live with him/her;
  • your spouse deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years before your applied for the divorce;
  • you and your spouse separated for a continuous period of at least two years before you applied for your divorce, and your spouse consents to the divorce;
  • that you and your spouse lived apart for five years continuously before you applied for a divorce.

Once your divorce papers are filed, you should receive a hearing date within about two months from the date of filing. There is a document called an Acknowledgment of Service Form to be filled out, filed and served by your spouse within eight days of him or her being served. In this form, your spouse can indicate beforehand whether they will consent to the divorce.

At this first hearing, your spouse will have another opportunity to consent to the divorce. If that happens, and there are no children of the family to consider, the Court will most likely order that the marriage be brought to an end after a wait period of six weeks have passed. In legal jargon, a decree nisi will be granted at that hearing not to be made absolute until six weeks have elapsed.

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It is absolutely critical to understand that until the decree absolute is granted after the wait period, you are still considered married. You cannot remarry until the Court issues you that document called the decree absolute!

It gets a bit more complicated when there are children of the family to consider (under 16 years or age, still in school or training for a trade, profession etc). The Court may not allow your divorce to be made final if, for example, it is not satisfied that arrangements for the welfare of your child/children are satisfactory or the best that can be devised in the circumstances.

If there are matrimonial assets (assets acquired during the course of your marriage) to divide, but the parties cannot decide between themselves how to do this, an application may have to be made for the Court to decide. This can be lengthy, expensive and unpleasant.

Happily, in my experience, the vast majority of divorces and all the connected issues are settled amicably between the spouses. Lawyers usually play a significant role in achieving settlement.

Family law (including the law on divorces, arrangements for the welfare of the children and property settlements) is a vast area of law and this article has only skimmed the surface. Putting it all together, a marriage may be brought to an end in as little as under four months, circumstances permitting. Is this a good thing or bad?

© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.

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