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Stabroek News

Divorces on the rise in Jamaica
published: Friday | January 4, 2008

There has been a 30 per cent increase in divorces in Jamaica, over the last decade, a phenomenon that is causing concern for some church leaders, in particular.

From 1996 to 2005, the courts granted a total of 14,895 divorces, the national demographic data show. The greater portion of the marriages lasted from a few months to 14 years.

Most couples who got divorced were married between ages 18 to 29. The data show that, for most, it was their first marriage. However, a significant number of them, mostly men, had previously been married.

It is a trend that is worrying for Pastor Richard Keane of Family Church on the Rock, Montego Bay.

"People resort to divorce too quickly or easily and some get married too quickly without learning enough about each other before committing to this long-term relationship," he observed.

Family breakdown

Pastor Keane, who ministers mainly in western Jamaica, has himself observed this growing tendency to resort to the dissolution of the marriage relationship. And, he's not liking it!

Describing the family unit as "the basis of most things that influence some of our cultural practices", he argues that it is the breakdown of that unit that is contributing to some of the country's other social problems.

"Our children are not being taught the value of marriage and the price that goes with it and, therefore, the importance of keeping it intact," the minister contends.

National attention was drawn to the issue in Tuesday's edition of The Gleaner, in which a pilot published a divorce petition in an effort to locate his estranged wife who resides in Manchester.

The petition outlined reasons for the breakdown of the marriage and gave her time to respond. Failing this, the petitioner could proceed with the divorce without her acknowledgement.

'Substituted service'

According to a source at the law firm which is dealing with the case, the law allows for one to apply for a 'substituted service', as in the case of the pilot who placed the newspaper advertisement, if the person who is being served with the petition cannot be found.

Attorney-at-law Margaret MaCaulay said that, before the rules dealing with divorce were changed in 2002, an undefended divorce took between four and six months to be completed.

She noted that the new rules were to hasten the process, but the opposite has occurred.

Among the leading causes of divorce are issues of incompatibility, a lack of or a breakdown of communication in the relationship and domestic violence.

Appropriate response

Bert Samuels, an attorney with 28 years' experience in the courts, finds the change in the law facilitates so-called 'no fault' divorces as an appropriate response to the problem of incompatibility.

"This is better for, in some instances, the difficulties attached might cause domestic violence and lead to murder and suicide," he contends.

Pastor Keane is not impressed, however, by such efforts at judicial efficiency in respect of divorce.

Basing his argument on scriptural teachings, he contends that it was never intended for the dissolution of marriage to be a quick process.

Room for reconciliation

Referring to St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he said the apostle's advice was for couples who were having marital problems to separate for a while in the hope that they could be reconciled later.

"We have testimonies of persons who have been separated for years who have been reconciled," he told The Gleaner.

Reluctant though he might be to endorse any divorce, Pastor Keane does concede that there might be rare circumstances in which this action would be appropriate.

Mr. Samuels was careful to point out, as well, that many judges in Jamaica will only grant a divorce after the parties have submitted to counselling and attempts at reconciliation.

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