Namibia must update its divorce laws

Jackie Wilson Asheeke

I can state from experience that Namibia’s divorce laws are ridiculous in the 21st century. The Land of the Brave is too cowardly to take this issue on with alacrity. We must stop talking about changing divorce laws and do it.

Right now, Namibia follows an apartheid era, religious-inspired law that is questionably legal in a secular state. It is absolutely unethical when considering the spirit of our constitution. Those responsible for forcing citizens to be subjected to this law must get off their butts and update these laws.

Divorce is a fact of life whether people want to acknowledge that reality or not. There used to be an illusion of Cinderella and Prince Charming living “happily ever after” or “What God has joined, no one must put asunder” or “Until death us do part”. Each of those perspectives is nice to hear, but impractical.

A marriage is, at its essence, a contract. Every contract has stipulations when it comes to ending it. Divorce laws that include irreconcilable differences (if only one party wants out) or an informed desire for a ‘no-fault’ ending of a marriage, must be a part of the law. The existing law forces one party to accuse and prove breach of the marriage by the other. This is horrifically debilitating and stressful and must be eliminated.

I think the ‘fault’ or egregious proven violations of the marriage contract must factor into the settlement phase of the process. If there is culpability proven (adultery, spousal abuse, etc) then let that heavily impact the damages phase of the divorce process in terms of the division of assets or determination of alimony payments.

Pre-nuptial agreements must become the norm. No one should get married without one. While the stupidity of blind love fogs the minds of the two people getting married, no wedding certificate should be granted by the government until a conference has been held with a court mediator or ministry social worker where each party has been told the legal side of marriage, minor children and custody, and divorce. INFORMED CONSENT must become the basis of all marriage contracts.

Marriage in-community must become a mandate everywhere in Namibia (even above the redline). This business of men (who may be the only source of family income) kicking their wives into the streets with nothing after they find another woman or don’t get their oshifima prepared properly is sexism at the highest levels. Married women need protection of their rights.

A last will and testament by both partners should be submitted with the marriage certificate. These wills can change of course, but this business of a partner dying intestate and the surviving partner being exploited by selfish relatives must stop.

The irony is that South Africa, the monster that gave birth to this antiquated divorce law morass, has moved on. They updated their laws some time ago. But, Namibia, like a faithful dog lying next to its dead master’s grave, is hanging on.

People are suffering. All of you, from the lawyers operating according to those laws, to every judge and magistrate ruling under such laws, the Law Review Board responsible for recommending the changes in the laws and the Justice Ministries that are supposed to be driving and approving such changes, need to be slapped. You are the source of a river of tears.

The words used in the process of proving guilt in order to end a marriage goes overboard. It is unnerving to say someone ‘violated the sanctity of marriage’ or that someone doesn’t give ‘love and affection.’ It is subjective and silly to say that someone ‘causes constant quarrels for no reason.’ It is humiliating to say that someone ‘persists in an adulterous relationship and has left the marital home’ even when it is true. This is such antiquated language. I cannot help but think, “is this the Salem witch trials of the 1600’s or a divorce in 2020?”

There are men beating up their wives (physically and emotionally). Women need to get out of that situation. Equally, there are women out there who aren’t serious about being married. Their men want out. Our marriage laws make ending such marriages unnecessarily difficult.

These days, people get married without full awareness of what that the legal and emotional union means. They pay attention to having a pretty dress or having a full suitcase for the bride and not focusing on what marriage means. There are families ripped asunder and lives are left like Nagasaki after the A-bomb was dropped when (if) divorce happens.

Divorce should not be so easy that it makes marriage a joke. However, at the same time, it must be a contract that is able to be severed when either side wishes/needs it. The current laws do not handle this difficult conundrum with any semblance of practicality or reasonableness.

Let the legal community serve the people properly. Update Namibia’s divorce laws.

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