I was married at 17, now I want out

Margarette Macaulay

Monday, September 17, 2012

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Dear Mrs Macaulay,

In 2008 when I was 17 I unfortunately made the terrible decision to get married to a 21 year old. The marriage was made legal by my grandmother, who signed a consent letter. My husband became abusive soon after and we separated in 2009. I went off to college and he went his way.

He had a son soon after, I found this out when the mother of the child sent me a message on Facebook. I am now 21 and have been in a committed and fulfilling relationship for over a year. I, too, have a son, who was born in March of this year.

Due to my inexperience, I did not obtain a marriage certificate until December last year. I am eager to be divorced and be rid of my husband. However, I have no idea where my husband is, nor do I have contact information for him. What is the most cost effective way to obtain a divorce? How long would it take, and what's a rough estimate of the costs?

Thank you very much for your letter. I need not harp upon the ill-advised decision you made to get married while you were still a minor, as you yourself have referred to it as a terrible decision. Without a doubt your young man was just that, young, and not mature enough for the responsibilities of marriage.

Anyway, things have greatly improved for you and you wish to know how to go about untangling yourself from your ill-conceived marriage. So here goes.

In circumstances where a petitioner does not have any address for the respondent in her petition, an order for substituted service would have to be applied for and obtained.

This has to be applied for after the petition has been filed. A notice of application has to be filed seeking the order for substituted service and stating the grounds/reason why such an application is being made. These would be that you have not seen him since you separated and you did not know then where he went to live nor do you know now his whereabouts. Additionally, you have to state that you do not know any way or any person who may direct you to him. If you know any family of his, you should say who it is and give their address. If when you were with him he regularly read a particular newspaper, you must say so and that he is likely to continue to read it.

If you do know of any family member of his who used to have contact with him, this should also be disclosed so that the court is aware of this fact and any other possibility for your estranged husband to be informed of or handed your petition.

Your application must of course be supported by an affidavit which will state the facts about why you do not know where he is or have any contact information for him.

The court on such applications generally orders that there be two publications of the notice of the filing of the petition in a particular newspaper on consecutive weeks and if there is a family contact, that a copy of the petition be served on such family member.

This is the only way that you can obtain your divorce in the circumstances you have related, unless your husband comes out of the woodwork and petitions the court for a divorce himself.

The matter of costs would depend on what is charged by your lawyer to take you through the whole process to the decree absolute. You can also go to the Legal Aid Clinic on Tower Street, Kingston, or the Norman Manley Law School Legal Aid Clinic, Mona, and they may be able to assist you. Their rates will not be as high as an attorney-at-law in private practice.

There is no fixed rate in private practice although attorneys seek to be as reasonable as they can be in this regard. I also cannot state a particular length of time to you. This is quite variable depending on many factors. It could be a matter of months, or far longer. The number of petitions and applications which the court staff have to process is far more than they had to cope with in the past.

The thing to do is to go ahead and file your petition as quickly as you can and get your order for substituted service. Once these are done, as you and your husband had no children together, I do not see any complications or difficulties arising in your proceeding for the dissolution of your marriage in the shortest possible time and on paper, without you having to give evidence in person.

I hope you will soon succeed in obtaining your wish and that you, your son, and your present significant other have a settled and happy life together. Good luck.

Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Mrs Macaulay cannot give personal advice.


The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.




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