Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Comparing 1984 to 2014

Published:Monday | October 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Sherry Ann McGregor

Happy Birthday, Flair, and thanks for the unique opportunity you have afforded me to demystify the legal world for your readers, one brief article at a time.

In commemoration of this anniversary, I considered the legal landscape in relation to family law today, and compared it with what existed in 1984.

In 1984:

1. Common-law spouses enjoyed no legal recognition.

2. No matter how long a couple lived together, as if they were husband and wife in law, they had no legal obligation to maintain each other or right to seek maintenance from each other.

3. If one party in that union died without leaving a will behind, the survivor had no right to claim an interest in the deceased person's estate.

4. An unmarried woman had the sole legal responsibility to maintain her child.

5. A man was obligated to maintain his wife whether she had the means to maintain herself or not.

6. There was no facility for a man to claim maintenance against his wife.

7. To get divorced, you had to prove "fault"; e.g. adultery, desertion or abuse.

8. The concept of irretrievable breakdown as the basis for divorce was not a part of Jamaican law.

9. Only a married man or woman had the right to claim an interest in family property under the Married Women's Property Act.

10. The Property (Rights of Spouses) Act was still more than 20 years away.

11. The idea that the family home is owned equally by both spouses was barely a topic for discussion.

12. Prenuptial Agreements were void as being contrary to public policy.

13. The Domestic Violence Act, with the protection and occupation orders, would not become law for another 12 years.

14. Although DNA testing was pioneered in the UK in 1984, it would not be available to prove paternity in Jamaica for many years. Blood testing remained the prevailing method to disprove paternity.

15. There was no Laws of Eve.

Thirty years later:

1. Common law spouses enjoy the same legal recognition to their married counterparts.

2. If a single man and a single woman cohabit as if they were husband and wife in law, either party can claim maintenance against the other.

3. A spouse (whether married or unmarried) will inherit the lion's share of her deceased spouse's estate if he dies without leaving a will.

4. Parents have equal obligation to maintain their children whether they are married or not.

5. A wife or common-law spouse must prove that she has reasonable needs which she is unable to meet if she is to get maintenance from her husband or common-law spouse.

6. A man can now seek maintenance from his wife.

7. To get divorced, there is no need to prove "fault".

8. The concept of irretrievable breakdown as the basis for divorce became a part of Jamaican law in 1989.

9. Married couples and common-law spouses enjoy equal rights to make claim to family property.

10. The Property (Rights of Spouses) Act came into effect on April 1, 2006.

11. The family home is presumed to be owned equally by both spouses.

12. Prenuptial agreements are valid and enforceable.

13. The Domestic Violence Act is to be reviewed by a joint select committee of Parliament.

14. DNA testing is the prevailing method to prove paternity.

15. Laws of Eve is already nine years old!

Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to or