Easing divorce critical

01 October 2019 | Opinion

Some critical pieces of legislation are currently in the pipeline. The justice ministry recently confirmed it aims to table both the divorce and rape amendment bills by November this year. Both are still in the lawmaking process and are currently with the directorate of legislative drafting. If given the green light, the divorce amendment bill will dramatically ease divorce proceedings by moving away from the current fault-based system, while reducing the costs associated with lawyers and advocates. It will also speed up the divorce process. Cheaper divorces will occur as proceedings will be handled in regional courts, instead of the pricey High Court, where an advocate must act. The bill also seeks to address issues around spousal maintenance to make it fairer and more realistic. The ministry has explained that under the current system, divorce proceedings require one party to accept fault for the failure of the marriage.

The new law will require only one ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the union. This removes the fault requirement and limits pitting spouses against each other. In divorces where there are no children or disputes involved, a paper application can be lodged jointly by spouses at a regional court. This will eliminate the need for costly and drawn-out actions.

Experts have rightfully mused that the current difficulties underpinning divorce proceedings in Namibia often contribute to domestic violence, by trapping people in unhappy or violent relationships.

While many couples separate without a formal divorce, this leaves property rights unresolved.

Legal policy expert Dianne Hubbard, from the Legal Assistance Centre, said that by easing access to divorce, conflict between couples will be lessened, and this can “only benefit the children of the marriage”. Although no one goes into a marriage while thinking of divorce as the end-product, it is critical that when irreconcilable break-ups happen, parties, including children, are protected. The divorce amendment bill is thus a critical piece of legislation with which to ensure this.