JIS News

A Bill entitled, ‘The Property (Rights of Spouses) Act 2004’, which makes provision for the division of property belonging to spouses after a breakdown of the union, was yesterday approved by the House of Representatives.
In piloting the Bill, Minister of Development with responsibility for Gender Affairs, Dr. Paul Robertson said the Bill represented “a most significant landmark in Jamaica’s social base legislation especially over the last quarter century”.
He said that the Bill recognized co-habitation or common law unions of a period of at least five years and conferred rights particularly, property rights to these unions.
“This is a move which will chart a new frontier in family law in Jamaica,” the Minister pointed out.
The Bill, he said, was also unprecedented as it not only provided equitable division of properties between spouses after the breakdown of marriage, but also extended equitable division of properties on the breakdown of common-law unions of five years or more.
Dr. Robertson pointed out that previously the law did not provide for equitable division of property between spouses upon the breakdown of marriage nor was there provision for the division of property between spouses on the breakdown of common law unions.
“Properties were therefore divided on the principle that you own what you buy and in the case of a dispute regarding property ownership, proof of purchase or contribution to property were required,” he said.
He stated that the Bill, which provided for equitable division of property, represented, “a positive move for the women of this country”, adding “in particular, wives who had not worked outside of the home were placed at an obvious disadvantage as their tangible and real contribution to the matrimonial home was often difficult to prove and rejected”.
Citing another provision of the Bill, the Minister said that it also recognized non-financial contribution of spouses during the division of property and that there shall be no presumption that a monetary contribution was of greater value than a non-monetary one.
The Bill, he said, also challenged religious, historical, cultural and the legal framework, which had been developed in the country over centuries.
He further argued: “We are not alone in going in this direction, notwithstanding Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Barbados, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago. They too have dared to challenge these historical hurdles and have implemented legislations in this regard”.
The Bill also seeks to give the Supreme Court, the Family Court and the Resident Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction to hear all matters relating to the property owned by either or both spouses and to make provision for the family home to be equally divided, except where such a division would not be equitable.
It also makes provision for the Court to have the power to divide property owned by either or both spouses, except the family home. However, under the law, spouses must be single (unmarried) and have cohabited for a period of not less than five years.
Supporting the Bill, Local Government Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller said: “This is indeed a historic moment in our nation’s struggle for gender equality, fairness and justice”. The Bill, she added, was also gender neutral and aimed to be fair to both men and women.
Mrs. Simpson Miller stressed that the Bill had also “certainly broken new ground”, pointing out that history had shown that far too often women and their children had been disenfranchised when men decided to change partners and start a new relationship either through marriage or common-law union.
“No longer can women be devalued or go unaccounted for in our society. This is a victory for all women and a validation of the many times that Caribbean women in general and Jamaican women in particular have raised this issue and lobbied for the reflection of unwaged work in our calculation of the net value of our resources. Today, the women of Jamaica can be proud of the fact that they lead the movement for equality and equity for all people. This Bill is a clear indication of what women have always wanted, justice, equity and fairness in our society,” she declared.
Also supporting the Bill was Member of Parliament for Central St. Catherine, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange who described the Bill as “a very important piece of legislation, which introduces fundamental changes to the process by which property is divided with spouses on the breakdown of a marriage”.

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