Is my boyfriend legally married?

By Margarette MACAULAY

Monday, December 31, 2012

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Dear Mrs Macaulay,

My boyfriend, who resided in the US at the time, came to Jamaica in 2001 and got married at a hotel. His wife is a US citizen. He told me that the marriage officer gave them the document and asked them to file it when they returned to the US. This was not done. I have tried to do a search with the RGD but I am unaware of the marriage officer's name and they do not remember it. The search at RGD has found nothing otherwise. So the question is, are they married and how do we proceed from there so my boyfriend can get a divorce?

You say that after your boyfriend got married in Jamaica, the marriage officer gave the couple their marriage certificate (referred by you as "the document") and asked them to file it when they returned to the United States.

This I do not understand because the marriage officer normally gives the couple an original certified duplicate marriage certificate from his Register Book. The certificates in this marriage register book have to be completed and signed by the marriage officer, the bride and bridegroom, and their two witnesses. This is what the Marriage Act in Section 31 provides. It then imposes the duty on the marriage officer, in Section 32, to deliver or cause to be delivered to the registrar general's office immediately after completion, the duplicate, and, at the end of the ceremony, the certified copy should be given to one of the parties to the marriage. The next section of the Act provides that the registrar general's office must file the duplicate copy and safely preserve it there.

The marriage was legally contracted and a duplicate marriage certificate should therefore have been filed here in Jamaica at the Registrar General's Department as required by law.

I therefore must wonder whether or not your boyfriend's recollection of what he purports the marriage officer said about the certificate is reliable. You see, marriage officers normally say, when handing over the certificate to the bride, that she should keep it safely. Additionally, and more importantly, the marriage occurred in Jamaica and was conducted pursuant to Jamaican laws. There was therefore no reason for it to be "filed" in the United States, except that it may have been needed to regularise his status there as a citizen's husband.

So your boyfriend has to try and get the original certificate from his wife. If this is impossible, then since as you say the search at the RGD found no trace of the marriage, he will have to make an application to a resident magistrate (if he resides here now) for an order to have his marriage correctly registered/filed here in Jamaica.

After hearing evidence during the hearing of the application, if the resident magistrate is satisfied that your boyfriend's marriage has been proved, he/she must make an order saying so and certifying this fact to the registrar general and directing that it be registered. The registrar general must then have the marriage specially registered (in duplicate) as the order directs, in books which are kept in that office for this purpose, and note therein the date the order was made.

Thereafter, your boyfriend will then be able to obtain a certified copy of his marriage certificate and proceed to petition for the dissolution of his marriage.

In order to successfully obtain such an order in the resident magistrate's court, your boyfriend will have to produce and give sufficient evidence himself and through witnesses especially one or both of the witnesses who signed the register book with him and his wife immediately after their marriage was solemnised.

You see, the resident magistrate must have sufficient evidence to be satisfied that a legal marriage did occur on that date and that the person who officiated was indeed a marriage officer. It matters not that your boyfriend cannot remember this person's name, but he would have to give evidence about how and where they made contact with the officer and the formalities and arrangements they made for the conducting of the ceremony — that is, that the ceremony was conducted as required by law: in public and with the free and full consent of your boyfriend and his then bride; that they were single and of age at the time; that it was witnessed by at least two persons; and finally, that the marriage officer filled in the register and duplicate in the marriage register book after their exchange of vows and the declaration of their marital state, signed it, and had them and their witnesses sign it, and gave him or his wife their copy. He will have to produce evidence through you, who did the search at RGD, that no trace was found of the registration of such a marriage there.

Once the resident magistrate is satisfied with the evidence, he will get his order and his situation will be regularised so he can proceed and obtain his divorce.

Finally, you asked if they are married. As long as it was a marriage officer who conducted their marriage ceremony and they met the requirements of age, singular status, free and full consent, and for the conduct of the marriage in public in the presence of at least two witnesses, then they are married. The problem is that something clearly happened after the ceremony with the marriage officer who seems to have failed in his/her legal duty to submit the duplicate certificate to the RGD, or it was not done by a failure or neglect at the RGD.

What your boyfriend has is a case of parties being married who do not have their marriage certificate for some reason years later, and therefore they cannot prove the fact of their marriage.

Since one party wishes to dissolve the marriage, it must be proven to have occurred for the divorce court to be able to dissolve it. The Marriage Act in Section 34 provides for this eventuality and I have related the steps the Act says your boyfriend can take through an application at a resident magistrate's court.

I trust that I have clarified the position for you both and wish you the best of luck. I also wish you both and my readers all the best for the new year, and God's blessings always.

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; 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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