By: Azaria Cheddie                                                          13th July, 2020

In Trinidad and Tobago, the parties to a cohabitational or more commonly, common-law relationship have rights under the Cohabitational Relationships Act. This Act confers on cohabitants rights to give the Courts jurisdiction to make orders with respect to interests in property and maintenance. In proceedings for an Order the Court shall make such orders as will end the financial relationship between the cohabitants and avoid further proceedings between them.

Cohabitational Relationships Act

What is a cohabitational relationship?

Under this Act, a “cohabitational relationship” is defined as the relationship between cohabitants, who not being married to each other are living or have lived together as husband and wife on a bona fide domestic basis.

Requirements to apply for reliefs 

Section 3 provides that a cohabitant may apply to the Court for an order or other relief once the Court is satisfied that the parties to the application are or either of them is domiciled in Trinidad and Tobago; and both parties lived together in Trinidad and Tobago for at least one-third the duration of their cohabitational relationship.

No Orders shall be made unless the Court is satisfied that:

(a) the applicant lived in a cohabitational relationship with the respondent for a period of not less than five years; or

(b) the applicant has a child arising out of the cohabitational relationship; or

(c) the applicant has made substantial contributions of the kind referred to in section 10,
and that failure to make the order would result in grave injustice to the applicant.

Property and Maintenance Orders

Section 4 outlines that the High Court shall have jurisdiction to make any order or grant any relief under this Act, including—

(a) in relation to property, an order declaring a title or right, or adjusting an interest; or

(b) an order for— (i) the periodical payment to a cohabitant of such sums of money and such term as may be specified; or (ii) the payment to a cohabitant of such lump sum as may be specified.

The Magistrate’s Court shall have jurisdiction under this Act to make maintenance orders only.

How to Apply 

Under Part 3, Section 6 of the Act, A cohabitant may apply—

(a) to the High Court for the granting of an adjustment order or for the granting of a
maintenance order; or

(b) to the Magistrate’s Court for the granting of a maintenance order.

Deadline to Make An Application 

As per Section 8 of the Act, where cohabitants have ceased to live together as husband and wife on a bona fide domestic basis, an application under this Part shall be made within two years after the day on which they so ceased to live.

The Court may grant leave to a cohabitant to apply for an order after the expiration of the period if the Court is satisfied that not to do so would cause undue hardship to the cohabitant or a child of the cohabitational relationship.

Adjustment of Property Orders

Section 10 outlines the factors the Court considers upon determining an application for an adjustment order:

(a) the financial contributions made directly or indirectly by or on behalf of the cohabitants to the acquisition or improvement of the property and the financial resources of the partners; and

(b) any other contributions, including any contribution made in the capacity of homemaker or parent, made by either of the cohabitants to the welfare of the family constituted by them;

(c) the right, title, interest or claim of a legal spouse in the property.

Maintenance

Section 15 outlines the factors the Court considers upon determining an application for maintenance:

 (1) A Court may make a maintenance order, where it is satisfied as to one or more of the following matters:

(a) that the applicant is unable to support himself adequately by reason of having the care and control of a child of the cohabitational relationship, or a child of the respondent, being in either case, a child who is— (i) under the age of 12 years; or (ii) in the case of a physically disabled or mentally ill child, under the age of 18 years;

(b) that the applicant’s earning capacity has been adversely affected by the circumstances of the relationship, and in the opinion of the Court a maintenance order would increase the applicant’s earning capacity by enabling the applicant to undertake a course or programme of training or education; and

(c) having regard to all the circumstances of the case, it is reasonable to make the order.

A maintenance order shall not exceed three years from the date on which the order was made.

(2) In determining whether to make a maintenance order and in fixing the amount to be paid pursuant to such an order, the Court shall have regard to—

(a) the age and state of health of each of the cohabitants including the physical and mental disability of each cohabitant;

(b) the income, property and financial resources of each cohabitant;

(c) the financial needs and obligations of each cohabitant;

(d) the responsibilities of either cohabitant to support any other person;

(e) the terms of any order made under section 10 with respect to the property of the cohabitants;

(f) the duration of the relationship;

(g) a standard of living, that in all the circumstances is reasonable;

(h) the extent to which the applicant has contributed to the income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of the other cohabitant;

(i) the terms of any order made by a Court in respect of the maintenance of a child or children in the
care and control of the applicant;

(j) any fact or circumstance that, in the opinion of the Court, the justice of the case requires to be
taken into account.

Interim Orders for applicants in immediate need of financial assistance 

The Court may make an interim order for the payment of reasonable periodic sums until the application is
finally determined (Section 16).

Subsequent common law relationship/ marriage

As per Section 17, the Court may not make a maintenance order in favour of a cohabitant who has entered into a subsequent cohabitational relationship or has married or remarried. Furthermore, a maintenance order shall cease to have effect on the marriage or remarriage of the cohabitant in whose favour the order was made.

This post does not constitute or provide legal advice neither does it establish an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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