As I listened intently to the speaker, my mind began to wander. I began to ask questions which frightened rather than satisfy my curious mind.
I had attended a Singles and Marriage Seminar as part of activities organized by the youth wing of my church. I was listening to one of the seasoned and experienced relationship counsellors in Ghana.
He went on and on and on. Suddenly some key words he said struck me. Let me attempt to paraphrase. He stated emphatically, “Some of you here (referring to the youth) are busy planning your divorce even before you marry.” Wow. That is so deep. “Why would any one plan a divorce before his/her marriage?”, I asked myself.
My mind quickly imagined how most ladies dream (if not most and minus some ‘feminists’ who clearly detest the idea of marriage) of walking down the isle just to exchange vows with the man of their dreams. Why would anyone plan and expend so much money, be it Ghana Cedis or Dollars or whatever for their marriage ceremony, just to file for a divorce?
Currently in Ghana, a person who files for a divorce (Petitioner) will on average spend not less than Ten Thousand Ghana Cedis (GHS 10,000) on divorce proceedings. That is pretty close to half the price of a plot of land some where in Pokuase you know. I instantly debunked the counsellor’s statement and clearly ruled it out as inaccurate or probably a slip of tongue. Within minutes of debunking the statement, I began to carefully ponder over the words.
I had just been called to the Ghana Bar and one of the subject requirements I needed to pass before being called to the Bar was Family Law. Most important and essential to my thought process in my attempt to digest his words, was one of the topics I learnt which is ‘Dissolution of Monogamous marriage.’
I remember how uncomfortable I was when the topic was being discussed in class. Deep inside my mind, my Christian values waged war against the legal principles being presented to me. I vowed never to handle a divorce proceeding when I start my law practice. That sounds funny especially because few months after my call, I find myself busy working on divorce briefs. My vow was short lived.
Well back to the thought process I was going through. I began to analyse the grounds on which a Ghanaian court will grant divorce. In Ghana, dissolution of monogamous marriages is primarily governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1971 (ACT 367). Under this law, any of the parties may file for a divorce.
That sounds a bit inaccurate should one choose to interpret the law ordinarily. Did it mean that one spouse could just wake up one day and decide to file for divorce simply because he/she had found someone else or for some flimsy excuse? No?
The court will grant the divorce where it is of the view that the marriage has broken down beyond reconciliation. Beyond repairs. Beyond mending. What that means is that before the court comes to this conclusion, it will consider some factors or grounds. The law I mentioned earlier provides six grounds to be considered namely;
(a) That the respondent (the person against whom the petition has been filed) has committed adultery and by reason of that adultery, the petitioner (the one filing for divorce) finds it intolerable to live with the respondent or;
(b) That the respondent has behaved in a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent or;
(c) That the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition or;
(d) That the parties have not lived together as man and wife for a continuous period of two years immediately before the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents to the grant of the decree of the divorce. In this case the consent of the respondent should not be unreasonably withheld and if the court believes it has been unreasonably withheld, the court may grant the petition notwithstanding the refusal or;
(a) That the parties to the marriage have not lived as man and wife for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition or;
(b) That the parties to the marriage have, after diligent effort, been unable to reconcile their differences.
The grounds are six in all, however it does not mean that they all have to exist before the court will grant the divorce. Once one ground is proven to the satisfaction of the court, the court will grant the divorce.
The period for reflecting on the counsellor’s statement even as I sat in the church auditorium was so short. Thus, I picked two of the grounds in an attempt to verify the veracity of the speaker’s words. My pick was ground one (1) and two (2), ADULTERY and UNREASONABLE BEHAVIOUR.
On adultery, the law defines it as sexual intercourse between two persons of whom one or both are married but are not married to each other. The bible frowns on adultery and so does the law. My analysis of the situation was non-legal. Our social fabric in recent times has been tainted by matters of indiscriminate sex.
Anything sensual and sexual spurs the youth on. Fidelity has become scarce in relationships. Cheating has become the norm of the day such that forgiveness for such acts become more of a birthright than discretion. The speaker’s words were gradually making sense. What it meant to me was that if one found him or herself in a relationship where one partner continuously exhibits signs of infidelity, then going on to tie the knot could only mean doom on the part of the parties.
I would not forget that he added that negative traits in relationships compound in marriage. So once a cheat, forever an adulterer. It will come to a point in the marriage where the other party can bear it no more and will file for divorce on grounds of adultery. (time will not permit me to delve into the legal aspect of this ground as a few defenses are available to the respondent who has engaged in the adulterous act)
Secondly and what was of interest to me was the ground I call UNREASONABLE BEHAVIOUR. Interestingly enough, the law has no clear cut definition for unreasonable behavior but the decided cases provide instances of unreasonable behavior to include cruelty, nagging, violence, impotence, drunkenness, refusal to have sex, refusal to have children and any untoward behavior. So why was this ground of particular interest to me?
Currently it is so common to find young people in relationships, with all the red flags so blatant and glaring in the face, still making plans to tie the knot. I have wondered over time whether it is out of desperation or for the fun of it. I like to classify some of these marriages as ‘Marriage for Likes.’
It is disheartening to find people marrying just to gain attention on social media. How can one ignore all the red flags just to get the approval of virtual friends? One wrong assumption is the hope that marriage will cure if not better any bad behavior once you get married. As rightly put by the counsellor, it becomes a case of ‘from frying pan to fire’. It only gets worse except in very few instances.
In a bit I had changed my mind. The counsellor was right. Some young people are busy preparing for their future divorce. My appearances in the Divorce courts so far have proven rather than debunked this assertion. The frivolous reasons resulting in the grant of divorces every day is nothing to write home about. Certainly you would not want to be a part of this. That is not to say if a person finds him or herself in a marriage which is likely to result in his death, he should not seek divorce.
What I will rather drum home is that, ‘the time is now.’ Don’t plan for your future divorce now.
By: Benedicta Rita Adjei.
The writer is a lawyer who has keen interest in advocacy for women especially in taking up leadership roles. You can reach her on facebook account Adjei Benedicta Rita or email firstname.lastname@example.org.