The Divorce Procedure in Trinidad and Tobago
By Azaria Cheddie 7.12.2020
The Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act Chapter 45:51
Jurisdiction of the court
No petition for divorce could be presented to the court before the expiration of the period of one year from the date of the marriage unless good reason is shown. Spouses do not have to be married in T&T to obtain a divorce in T&T. If a couple is legally married, the only requirement to obtain a divorce is that at least one of the spouses must have been habitually resident in T&T or domiciled in T&T when the proceedings began.
Breakdown of marriage to be sole ground for divorce
In Trinidad and Tobago, a divorce petition may be presented to the court by either party to a marriage. The sole ground on which a petition for divorce may be presented is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The breakdown can be satisfied by proving one or more of the following facts:
(a) that the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent;
(b) that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent;
(c) that the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;
(d) that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents to a decree being granted;
(e) that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
Decree nisi and decree absolute
Once the court is satisfied on all the evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, it shall grant a decree nisi of divorce. A decree nisi is only the first stage to end your marriage and shall not be made absolute before the expiration from its grant of a period of six (6) weeks or such other period as may be fixed by Rules of Court. If there are children, the judge must first state what arrangements have been made for the children and state that he/she is satisfied with the arrangements.
Thereafter, the Petitioner must apply for the decree nisi to be made absolute. In order to be able to re-marry, a decree absolute has to be applied for and obtained. The delay is to allow time for anyone who objects to the divorce to tell the court why they object or for parties to reconcile.
How to apply for a divorce
1. File a petition at the Family Court Office located at #4 Cipriani Boulevard, Cipriani Place, Port of Spain (Nipdec House) or at the Supreme Court located at Harris Promenade in San Fernando or at the Supreme Court in Scarborough Tobago. Supporting documents should be attached to the petition and these would include your original marriage certificate, children birth certificates if they are under the age of 16, any information concerning any other cases in any court about your marriage, the children, or any matrimonial property.
2. The petition must be printed on both sides of the paper (not one side per page); two copies of the petition and the original marriage certificate are required. The clerk will stamp them with the date and file the original with the court. The two copies will be date stamped and one returned to you for your files. The other is used to notify the Respondent that a petition has been filed.
*** Note that the most important section in the petition is entitled “Particulars” because this is what the Judge reads to decide whether or not the divorce should be granted. The Petitioner should state the reasons why the marriage should end, giving specific details of the behaviour by the Respondent to prove this. The easiest way to go about getting a divorce is to prove unreasonable behaviour; e.g., adultery, abuse, or breach of trust. The unreasonable behaviour MUST be within the last 6 months, proof of which is needed, such as police reports, texts, e-mails or pictures.
3. When your petition is filed, you will be given a date of hearing which will be approximately 8 weeks from the date of filing.
4. When your spouse, known as the Respondent is personally served with the petition, 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”.
(Petitions are served by the Marshal’s Assistants; the Court personnel assigned to serve documents.)
5. In addition to the petition, the Respondent will receive an Acknowledgement 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.
6. Where it is not possible for the petition to be served personally, your Attorney-at-Law will have to make an application for an “Order or Substituted Service”. This will either be by advertisement, pre-paid registered post, international courier, service on a relative-such as a parent or sibling, or completely doing away with the requirement of service. This application should be made when the petition is being filed.
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 he/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 arrangements for the children, if they have not been agreed and may adjourn the matter to another date.
The Judge may refer you to mediation to enable you and your spouse to reach agreement on as many issues as possible.
You must attend all hearings of the Petition.
If the Respondent does not attend the hearing, you may still proceed once you can prove that he/she has been served. This is normally done by an Affidavit of Service by the Marshal’s Assistant who served the petition.
Maintenance, property settlement, children
In the divorce proceedings, you may apply for financial relief (maintenance or property settlement); as well as orders for the children such as custody, access and maintenance. These applications may be dealt with at the same time as the divorce.
In simple cases, one hearing may be required and this will usually be completed within 4 months of filing. Other, more complicated matters may last longer.
Fees are usually governed by the Family Proceedings Rules:
Other Useful Links:
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.the di