Fri | Jan 21, 2022

‘Lazy’ wife loses divorce fight for house

Published:Monday | April 26, 2021 | 12:16 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter
The defendant’s lawyer, however, submitted to the judge that the issue at hand fell squarely within the statutory exception to the equal-share rule.
The defendant’s lawyer, however, submitted to the judge that the issue at hand fell squarely within the statutory exception to the equal-share rule.

A St Catherine housewife who took her ex-husband to court for an equal share in a house that he had bought before their marriage was left empty-handed after the judge ruled that she was not entitled to the property, having not contributed towards its purchase and maintenance.

The ruling also factored that she shirked her spousal responsibilities in the performance of household work and the care of children.

The claimant, Keneisha Jones, whose marriage lasted for six years, sued Michael Jones under the Property Rights of Spouses Act (PROSA), claiming that the house had been the “family home” and that she was entitled to a 50 per cent stake. But the act gives the court wiggle room to assess whether it would be unreasonable or unjust for each spouse to be given an equal stake.

The mother of two, who had lived at the Caribbean Estate residence in question since her marriage, not only wanted half of the property but pressed the Supreme Court for the house to be valued and sold, with her ex-husband getting the first option of purchase.

The claimant also wanted the house to be sold on the open market or via an auction and for the proceeds to be equally distributed between them within 14 days of the sale, if her ex-husband was unable to exercise first option of purchase.

Court has authority to give nothing

Family lawyer Courtney Williams told The Gleaner, that the court has the authority under PROSA to give the woman nothing, if it is proven that she had not made any financial or non-direct financial contribution.

“Half and half is a presumption that the law makes when it comes to the matrimonial home, but the presumption can be rebutted, meaning that it can be eroded after the court looks at the evidence,” he told The Gleaner on Sunday.

Williams said that, if one partner can show that he or she has wholly shouldered the financial burden, in the absence of non-financial contribution to the maintenance of the property, that could undercut the equal-share standard.

In the legal row over the Caribbean Estate property, Mr Jones challenged the claim on the basis that the house had been purchased as a gift for his two daughters from a previous relationship, and that he never intended for his wife to have any share in the property.

During the hearing attorney-at-law for the claimant, Karl Graham, contended that although the house had been purchased before marriage, his client had been in a three-year common-law relationship with the defendant before wedlock in 2010 and that she had been actively involved in the purchase.

He further argued that the union was not short as they had been married for eight years, considering that the divorce was in 2018.

Graham further argued that the defendant’s position as the sole financial provider did not automatically entitle him to a greater share of the property. He also suggested that his client’s lack of financial contribution towards the purchasing of the house and its renovation not count against her because she was a homemaker.

No financial contribution

Mrs Jones admitted that she made no financial contribution towards the house or its upkeep but said that she had given a workman money to buy a window.

But that claim was rubbished by the defendant’s lawyer, Bobbette Brown, who told the court that the house was brand new. The lawyer also asked the court not to believe the claimant’s evidence, as she had written in her affidavit that she had bought the window herself.

Mrs Jones had told the court that her then husband had told her not to work as he could take care of the family.

However, she later admitted, under cross-examination, that she had worked on occasion throughout the marriage, as she had operated a cook shop with her mother, and would also bake Christmas cakes for sale and throw ‘partner’ in order to generate income.

She also told the court that she was paid to organise trips for persons, but kept all the money she had earned.

The defendant’s lawyer, however, submitted to the judge that the issue at hand fell squarely within the statutory exception to the equal-share rule.

She asserted that the property was solely bought by her client and that he had borne all the costs, including the mortgage payments.

Brown also asked the court to accept that the union had been for a short period, while pointing out that, although the divorce decree was signed in December 2018, the couple had stopped living together as husband and wife in November 2016 and had been living in separate rooms in the house.

The lawyer also argued that the claimant had failed in her duties as a housewife and should not rely on her homemaker role to support her claim for 50 per cent of the home.

According to Brown, the claimant was not interested in doing her wifely duties, which resulted in the defendant hiring three helpers during their marriage. And when the helpers were not around, the older siblings had to perform those duties.

The defendant told the court that the claimant had been a “lazy” wife and did not want to work or perform any household duties.

In the affidavit of one of the helpers, the court heard that the claimant had refused to care for her ex-husband’s two “outside” children who had been living with them, and had also refused to assist a third child who would visit on occasions.

The judge concluded that the defendant had shown that it would be unjust and unreasonable to apply the equal-share rule on the grounds that their marriage was short, the parties had never agreed that the home should belong to both of them, and that Mrs Jones made no contribution, financial or otherwise, in respect of the home.

Efforts to contact the lawyers for both parties were unsuccessful.

tanesha.mundle@gleanerjm.com