Ten things a bride-to-be should know about the law
A marriage is an agreement by which a man and a woman enter into a legal relationship, thereby creating and imposing mutual rights and obligations. Gone are the days when it meant that you became your husband's property and he correspondingly assumed financial and legal responsibilities for you and any debts you incurred.
Today, getting married means that you maintain your individual identity and the debts you incurred in your name are your own. Therefore, there is no need for a public declaration that you and your husband are separated and that he no longer has an obligation to cover your debts.
There are many legal matters that you should note in relation to a marriage. I have highlighted 10 of them:
1. According to the Marriage Act, your marriage will be void if:
(i) one of the parties committed bigamy in that he/she had a wife/husband living at the time of the marriage;
(ii) one of the parties did not validly consent to the marriage;
(iii) the parties to the marriage were, at the time of the marriage, of the same sex;
(iv) the marriage is void under the provisions of the Marriage Act or other laws relating to marriage in Jamaica if:
• one of the parties knowingly and wilfully acquiesced in the solemnisations of a marriage ceremony by or before a person who was not a marriage officer or without two witnesses being present;
• one of the parties is under 16 years of age;
• the parties to the marriage are blood or other relation whom the English law prohibits to marry, for example, a brother and sister.
2. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act, if your marriage is void, you may obtain a decree of nullity.
3. In accordance with that same Act, if your marriage is valid, you can only end it by getting divorced.
4. Generally, a will is automatically revoked by marriage - Section 13 of the Wills Act.
5. A woman is entitled to choose to use her husband's surname after marriage, but she has no obligation to do so. She may also choose to continue to bear his name even after divorce, and her former husband would have no right to sue her for an injunction to prevent her from continuing to use his name.
6. A child does not have to be given his or her father's surname, but under the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, that child will be presumed to be the child of the husband of a married woman.
7. If the home in which a married couple resides after marriage is owned by the husband, the wife, or both of them, the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act provides that it will become the family home and the husband and wife will have equal entitlement to it.
8. A properly drafted prenuptial agreement under the provisions of the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act may protect you from a future property or maintenance claim by your husband.
9. Under the Maintenance Act, you may be obligated to maintain an outside child if you treat that child as a child of the family.
10. When the Maintenance Act was amended in 2005, it made provision for each spouse to be obligated to maintain the other. Men can now apply for maintenance from their wives, and a woman is no longer entitled to be maintained by her husband whether she is capable of maintaining herself or not.
Although you may never need to refer to most of these legal principles, at the very least, every new wife should ensure that she prepares a will after she gets married.