CARIBBEAN: Divorce in Jamaica

DIVORCE IN JAMAICA: The Caribbean island of Jamaica has been in the news this week on account of alleged drug dealer Christopher Coke and the unrest/mayhem that ensued when the Jamaican law enforcement sought to extradite Mr. Coke to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges. Last I heard, at least 70 people were dead, caught in the crossfires with gang lords and police turning the pristine island nation into a state of emergency.

Got me to thinking about the island in other contexts. Believe it or not, I’ve had this post in draft for months but, like many other things we’re working on over here, I never got around to doing even a modicum of research into it. I can tell you that, like most other countries in the world, the divorce rate in Jamaica was rising prior to the global recession of 2008. In the little bit of time I’ve spent researching it, I’ve learned that the reasons for this are the changing attitudes towards marriage, westernization, adultery and domestic violence. It seems that the increasing social problems such as the drug trade have not helped matters any.

SUBSTANTIVE AND PROCEDURAL ISSUES

First of all, it appears that there is one ground for divorce in Jamaica: Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. That means that unlike, say, jurisdictions like New York, Jamaica is no fault. But to the hilt. Even in California, the quintessential no fault jurisdiction of the United States, there are other grounds one can use but grounds such as adultery and cruelty have been abolished in Jamaica and only irretrievable break down is left. However, parties have to show they’ve been married at least two years in order to petition for a divorce, and they also have to show they’ve been separated for at least a year before a divorce can be granted in Jamaica.

Getting an “international” divorce in Jamaica is tricky for the respondent because a respondent only has about 28 days to answer a divorce petition. It doesn’t matter if he or she is living in Jamaica or not. That can create some logistical problems, especially depending on how service is effected. (Jamaica allows service by publication as well as personal service.) Divorce in Jamaica is governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act and one does not have to be a citizen of Jamaica to get divorced there. One only has to be domiciled there, or living there for at least 12 months prior to filing the petition.

There is a six week waiting period between the decree nisi (conditional divorce) and the decree absolute of divorce. Until there is a decree absolute, the divorce is not final. As a general rule, it appears that spousal support is not automatic in Jamaica if both spouses are capable of supporting themselves. Sure, there is asset distribution post-divorce and it seems to follow a community property scheme on the one hand, but then it is an equitable distribution scheme of the other hand. The marital residence is almost always community property even if it was inherited or obtained with “separate” property….prenups are still a novelty on the island.

The courts follow a “best interest of the child” modality;  child support is routine, and fathers are more likely to be ordered to pay support than mothers. Mothers are also more likely to obtain custody than fathers in a Jamaican divorce. There are abduction issues here, just like in the rest of the world. 

HAGUE CONVENTION

 Jamaican Cabinet has reportedly approved Jamaica’s accession to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (2008).  Jamaica joins Bahamas, St. Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago as Caribbean countries who have acceded to the treaty. The Convention will not be in force with the United States until the U.S. accepts Jamaicas accession to the treaty [JEREMY MORLEY, INTERNATIONAL DIVORCE ATTORNEY]

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