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Getting a divorce—the basics
If you are thinking of legally ending your marriage, then living in separate homes and starting new relationships will not be enough. You must “petition” or formally request the court for a divorce. To start divorce proceedings, you or your attorney must file court documents which represent your petition to the court. You will be referred to in these documents as the “Petitioner” and your spouse the “Respondent.”
Your petition must be accompanied by a certified copy of your marriage certificate. If you have children who are either under 18 years or over 18 but have not finished their education, you must also file a Statement of Arrangements for the children. This document tells the court what arrangements are in place for the continued wellbeing of the children of the family after the divorce.
Generally, you and your spouse must have been married for at least one year before you can file for a divorce. Only in exceptional circumstances would the court entertain a petition within a year of the marriage. You or your spouse must either live in this country permanently or must be resident here for at least one year immediately before your petition is filed. Divorce petitions are heard at the Family Court in Port-of-Spain or the High Court in San Fernando and Tobago.
Before the court grants you a divorce, it must be convinced that you have a justifiable reason for wanting one. Contrary to popular belief, there is only one “ground” for divorce—that is the marriage has broken down irretrievably. In other words, the relationship between you and your spouse has ended and there is no possibility of you two getting back together. However, to satisfy the court that your marriage is beyond repair, you must prove that at least one of five circumstances exists in the relationship.
These “facts” to be proven are:
• Your spouse has committed adultery and you find it intolerable to live with your spouse;
• your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with him/her;
• your spouse has deserted you for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before your petition is filed;
• you and your spouse have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately before your petition is filed and your spouse agrees to get a divorce; and
• you and your spouse have lived apart for at least five years immediately before your petition is filed. Your spouse’s agreement is not necessary in this instance.
Then the court will consider granting you a divorce. Your divorce will be granted in two stages. First, the court will grant what is known as a decree nisi. After six weeks have passed, you or your attorney can apply for the court to grant a decree absolute. This is a final declaration that you are legally divorced from your spouse and that you are free to re-marry.
This column is not legally advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.
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