Press Release: Equality for Women in common law

Spotlight supports move to bring equality for women in ‘common law’ relationships

The often risky financial position of women in non-marital relationships may become a thing of the past if sweeping family law reforms promoted by the Grenada Spotlight Initiative are passed.   

“Laws should reflect reality and family structures as they are now so that women can be adequately protected. The colonial legislation does nothing to protect those in non-marital unions”

Legal drafters and stakeholders are in discussions with Spotlight on recommendations to recognise unions other than marriage, exploring circumstances where cohabiting partners would have rights to apply for spousal maintenance in the event of relationship breakdown.  Spotlight, also, is spearheading proposals for legal reform which address rights to the division of property when cohabiting partners split up.

Further, it is pushing for legal reform on the inheritance rights of ‘common law’ spouses in Grenada who currently have no right to an interest in their deceased partner’s estate.

Any such legislation would remove inequalities between lawful marriage and common law unions, correcting outdated legislation with no real relevance to the Caribbean region.

The proposed reforms fall under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG goal five of eliminating gender inequality and Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which was ratified by Grenada in 1990. Article 16 obliges state parties to commit to taking all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations.

Presently, the United Kingdom Matrimonial Clauses Act 1973, (as amended) applies to Grenada. The 1973 Act is ill-suited to the country, does not recognise how the family is commonly understood and  allows no rights to maintenance  after a cohabiting relationship.

This legislation makes no provision for unions other than marriages and thus ignores the prevalence of non-marital unions throughout the region and specifically in Grenada. Under this law only married spouses are entitled to apply for a division of property at the end of the marriage and there are no rights for cohabiting partners to share a property if it is only registered in one name. 

The new legislation being proposed, if effected, will extend the 2010 Domestic Violence Act which currently provides partial relief and offers some recognition of non-marital unions.

Stakeholders and Policymakers are also looking at whether there is to be a limitation that the property must have been acquired during the course of the relationship to qualify for a declaration of interest.  On the legislative reform agenda, also are whether there should be options of a lump sum, a periodic payment, or a transfer of a specific asset to a surviving common law spouse based on the circumstances rather than limit it to solely one remedy. This will also be in keeping with various approaches in the Commonwealth Caribbean in those jurisdictions that recognize the common law spouse. This varies largely in relation to the level of entitlement to the deceased’s estate.

Currently, there is no right to entitlement to an interest in the deceased’s estate, regardless of the length of the cohabiting relationship or the existence of children born to the union, when a cohabiting partner dies intestate. The  National Insurance Act Cap. 205 (section 3) allows the Director of the Social Security Scheme in Grenada to award a survivor’s benefit as though the cohabitant were a widow or widower, but  this is seen as inadequate. This section only stipulates that the single person must have been living with the deceased at the date of death. No further requirements are articulated and the discretion is left with the Director of National Insurance to grant the benefit or not.

The proposals will follow best practice elsewhere. For example, in Barbados, Jamaica and Belize there is no distinction drawn in granting spousal maintenance between married and cohabiting partners, depending on length of cohabitation. 

Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago all legally recognise ‘common law’ marriages if both parties have lived together for a minimum of five years. These legislatively protected relationships reflect the social norm of cohabitating which is common throughout the Caribbean.

Trinidad and Tobago have legislated that both a deceased’s de facto and de jure spouses should be entitled to inherit under the same estate.  In Barbados “single” will be defined as at the date of death or during the qualifying 5-year cohabitation period. In Barbados, a recent CCJ decision has determined that even if one of the parties was still legally married during the 5-year cohabitation period with a statutory spouse, if at the date of death that party was a ‘single’ man or woman, their statutory spouse would be entitled to inherit.


Further notes on Spotlight Initiative

The European Union partnering with the United Nations launched the Spotlight Initiative to secure political commitments and catalyze global actions aimed at eliminating violence against women worldwide. The initiative currently operates in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific, providing funding, capacity and connection building, programmatic support and other forms of assistance towards its purpose of eliminating VAWG.

The Grenada Spotlight Initiative “is designed to focus attention, coordinate human effort, and strategically apply resources to the implementation of a well-conceived comprehensive national programme to contribute to end family violence and all forms of violence against women and in Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique”. The initiative is organised around six pillars of programming, namely: (1) ‘Legislative and Policy Frameworks’, (2) ‘Strengthening Institutions’, (3) Prevention and Social Norms, (4) ‘Delivery of High Quality, Essential Services (5) Data Availability and Capacities’, and (6), ‘Supporting Women’s Movements’.

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