When we get married we hope that it will be an everlasting love; unfortunately, there are times when this is not the case and life has not gone as planned. You may have decided or may be considering getting a divorce.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the only ground or circumstance upon which you can get divorced is if your marriage has broken down irretrievably that means there is no hope of reconciliation.
In order to prove this ground you must show at least one of the following:
It should be noted that you usually have to be married for at least one (1) year before you can get a divorce. However, if you can show that you have suffered extreme hardship because of your spouse’s gross and obvious conduct, you may apply for permission to file for divorce even though one (1) year has not passed since you got married.
How do I apply for divorce?
Although you do not have to have an attorney to apply for a divorce, in most cases, it would be better for you to have one. Your lawyer will take your instructions about the matrimonial property, finances and children (if you have any) and advise you. Your attorney will also prepare the necessary documents for the divorce and speak for you in court.
You would especially want to consider having an attorney where you are not sure if your spouse will consent to a divorce, or if the arrangements with respect to the children of the family or any matrimonial property have not been agreed. Additionally, your lawyer would be able to point out certain things to you, which you may not have thought about.
With that being said, to apply for divorce you will have to file a petition in court. The spouse who files for the petition is called the Petitioner and the other spouse is called the Respondent. Filing a petition means bringing your petition to court, along with other necessary documents and paying the filing fees.
The petition states the reasons why the marriage has broken down irretrievably, giving specific details of the behaviour of the Respondent. One reason commonly used is unreasonable behaviour which could include behaviour such as domestic abuse, debt/financial recklessness, verbal abuse and breach of trust. Proof also is needed, such as emails, pictures, financial statements, police reports or medical reports.
Other necessary documents to file with the petition include your marriage certificate and if you have children under the age of 16 or children who are still attending school or university, or children who have a disability you also will need to prepare a document called a Statement of Arrangements for the Children.
Where do I file my petition for divorce?
You will have to file the petition at the Family Court of Trinidad and Tobago which is located at #4 Cipriani Boulevard, Cipriani Place, Port of Spain (Nipdec House). You may also file your petition at the Supreme Court in San Fernando or the Supreme Court in Scarborough, Tobago. It should be noted that even if you live in South Trinidad, you can still file your petition for divorce at the Family Court in Port of Spain.
What happens when my petition is filed?
When your petition is filed you will be given a date of hearing which will be approximately 8 weeks from the date of filing. An assigned Judge will probably deal with your matter from beginning to end.
Will my spouse know that I have filed for divorce?
Yes your spouse must be served with the petition personally (in his/her hand). If a Statement of Arrangements for the children has been filed, the Respondent must also be served with this document personally (in his/her land). He/she will then have 8 days to say whether he/she will defend the petition or if he/she wants to make any other application with respect to the children or the matrimonial property. If the Respondent wants to contest the petition, he/she then has a further 20 days to file an “answer.”
Who will serve the petition?
Petitions are served by the Marshal’s Assistants who are the Court personnel assigned to serve documents. Under no circumstances can you serve the petition personally. However, the Marshall’s Assistant will sometimes ask you to be present to identify the Respondent. If you are uncomfortable being present when the Petition is being served, you may file a recent, clear photograph of the Respondent for identification. The Respondent could also go to the Family Court to be served, once he/she has proper photo identification.
In addition to the petition, the Respondent will receive an Acknowledgment of Service form (to be filled out and filed within 8 days of service) and a Notice of Proceedings which will tell him/her the date that the matter is to be heard. It also gives instructions about the court proceedings.
What will happen on the first date of hearing?
If your spouse does not contest the divorce:
Then on the first date of hearing you will give your evidence (the information in the petition and Statement of Arrangements if applicable). The Judge will state if/she is convinced that the marriage has broken down irretrievably based on what you claimed in your petition and issue a Decree Nisi.
The Judge may also give directions for a separate hearing to deal with any other issues such as property settlement and the arrangement for the children, if they have not agreed and may adjourn the matter to another date.
The Judge will always prefer if you and your spouse can settle the matter between yourselves in a way that you are both comfortable. In order to promote an atmosphere conducive to settlement, the Judge may refer you to mediation to enable you and your spouse to reach agreement on as many issues as possible.
If your spouse contests the divorce:
Then at the first hearing, the Judge will give directions as to how all the various issues will be tried.
It is important that you attend all hearings of the Petition.
If you need further information about filing for divorce in T&T, you should visit the Family Court website HERE.
Important Notice: This post does not constitute or provide legal advice. Always consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any legal problem or issue.