‘The marriage has broken down irretrievably’ is the sole ground to get a divorce in Cameroon. Marriage which is the legally and formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship is an institution ordained by God as illustrated in the Holy Scriptures which says “A man shall leave his father and mother and is joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh”. The only recognized legal way of bringing a lawfully contracted marriage to an end is through a divorce in Cameroon before a competent court. The legal regime for divorce in Cameroon is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which is read alongside section 18 of law No. 2006/015 of 29th December 2006 as amended by Law No. 2011/027 of 14 December 2011 on the Judicial Organization in Cameroon and family procedure Rules 2010.
GROUNDS FOR A DIVORCE IN CAMEROON
The basis of courts in Cameroon to assume Jurisdiction for a divorce process is either the domicile which is determined by the matrimonial home of the spouse or residence of one of the spouses or the place of celebration of the marriage.
As earlier mentioned, the court may pronounce a decree of dissolution of marriage in accordance with Section 1 of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 which stipulates that ‘the court may pronounce a decree of dissolution of marriage on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. For the marriage to have broken down irretrievably, Section 1 (2) of the same law has obligated the petitioner to prove one or more of the following facts;
- If one of the spouses has committed adultery in the marriage and the other spouse finds the act intolerable to continue in the marriage hence a divorce in Cameroon becomes the only option. The proof of adultery is usually based on circumstantial evidence as it is very remote for acts of adultery to be discovered by the other spouse.
- Since the marriage, one of the spouses has behaved in such a way that the other spouse cannot reasonably be expected to continue in the marriage. Hence a divorce in Cameroon becomes the only recourse. The behavior must be serious enough to qualify under this ground.
- Desertion of one of the spouses for a continuous period of two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
- That the spouses have lived apart for a continuous period of two years immediately before the petition and the other spouse consented to divorce in Cameroon.
- 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.
ISSUES TO ASCERTAIN IN A DIVORCE PROCESS IN CAMEROON
Upon the satisfaction of Section 1(1) and (2) of the Matrimonial Cause Act of 1973 alongside the other supplementary laws, the following issues must be ascertained by the family solicitor;
- Whether the marriage produced any children and the aspect of custody.
- The property regime of the marriage. Whether it is a joined property regime or a separate property regime.
- Whether the property of the spouses existed before the marriage or was acquired in the marriage.
- Whether the divorce in Cameroon will be a consented divorce or a contentious divorce process.
PROCEDURE FOR A DIVORCE IN CAMEROON
- The family solicitor will engage in an interview with the intended petitioner,
- The family solicitor will engage in an attempt to reconcile the procedure after the client’s briefing,
- The family solicitor will ascertain whether there exist any children in the marriage and the ages of the children,
- The family solicitor will ascertain the property regime of the marriage and whether there exists any property in the marriage,
- The family solicitor should ascertain aspects of the jurisdiction of the court to hear the divorce matter.
Upon the successful appraisal of the above aspects, the family solicitor is to request the following documents;
- The marriage certificate
- The birth certificate of the children if any
- Any document as proof of the existence of a property in the marriage
- A certificate of residence
The family solicitor will produce the following documents to be filed before the competent High Court;
- A divorce petition
- A verifying affidavit on oath attesting to the facts contained in the petition.
- A certificate of reconciliation attesting to the fact that the family solicitor has made an attempt to reconcile the parties which failed.
The documents will be served on the respondent within the prescribed timeframe established by law in order to ensure that the principle of fair hearing is respected.
Upon a successful plea before the court, the court will grant an ORDER NISI and an ORDER ABSOLUTE in the case of a contested divorce in Cameroon. After which a CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE and a judgment will be issued to the parties in the matter.
In a case where the parties to the divorce in Cameroon agree to the divorce procedure and have already laid down the modalities of their separation as regards custody of the children and the distribution of the family property, then the court will grant a CONSENT JUDGMENT to the divorce in Cameroon.
Clients interested to engage in a divorce in Cameroon usually inquire about the following issues;
- Can a spouse in a marriage deny the other spouse a divorce?
A spouse cannot deny the other spouse a divorce. If the spouse is served with the divorce documents and he or refuses to sign the papers, the matter will be treated as an undefended matrimonial cause.
- If a spouse makes his or herself impossible to find through an address in order to be served with the divorce papers, will it frustrate the divorce process?
Such a spouse cannot frustrate a divorce process based on availability because the documents will be served through substituted means.
- What will be the situation if the spouses of divorce in Cameroon do not agree on the custody of the children and the family property?
It will be left to the court to decide what it deems best and equitable with regard to the circumstances of the case.
- If a spouse sells the family property while the divorce matter is in court, will the sale be valid?
The sale will not be valid and the other spouse will still list that property sold in the divorce petition as well as apply to the court for an order restraining any sale from taking place pending the decision of the court. Such an order will be attached to the property as public notice.
- Can a criminal matter emanate from a divorce process?
Yes, if any of the spouses committed a crime towards the other in accordance with the Cameroon Penal Code, a criminal complaint can be lodged against the accused spouse.
N/B It is important to note that the welfare of the child in a marriage is paramount and must be determined before the court can pronounce divorce in Cameroon.