19 April 2018

Uganda: Law On Property Sharing in Cohabiting Couples in Final Stages

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A bill that will guide how property owned by cohabiting couples can be shared, upon separation, is now in its final stages.

The draft was developed out of the controversial clauses which were deleted from the marriage and divorce bill, according to Vastina Rukimirana Nsanze, the Chairperson of Uganda Law Reform Commission (ULRC).

The Marriage and Divorce Bill had provided for the recognition of cohabitation in relation to property rights. But members of parliament argued that cohabitation is an illegality that shouldn't be addressed under the marriage laws. The lawmakers argued that the clauses in regard to cohabitation contradicted the constitution the religious sacred understanding of marriage as well as the African tradition.

Clause 127(1) of the Bill provided that where a spouse acquires property before or during the marriage and the property does not fall within matrimonial property as defined in section 115, but his or her spouse makes a contribution towards the improvement of that property, be it monetary or in kind, the spouse without the interest shall acquire a beneficial interest equivalent to the contribution she or he made.

Clause 141(1) of the controversial Bill further provided that upon separation of the spouses, the matrimonial property shall not be divided between the parties but a court may order that the spouses share any income that may accrue from the matrimonial property.

Rukimirana says following consultations undertaken on the unsuccessful Marriage and Divorce Bill 2009, the Commission was advised to strike out the controversial clauses if the Bill was to see the light of the day. The outcome is a separate law, which sets guidelines on how property acquired among couples that are not legally married but have been living together, can be shared when the relationship ends.

She was appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of parliament today. The committee is considering policy statements from government departments and agencies that fall under its jurisdiction for the financial year 208/2019.

Also under contention was the provision on marital rape that triggered aggressive opposition from especially male MPs in the Ninth Parliament and these controversial provisions prompted Parliament to facilitate each MP with five million Shillings to consult their voters on the matter.

The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee chairperson Jacob Oboth Oboth narrated his ordeal during the then consultations on the Marriage and Divorce Bill in his constituency.

He said that his constituents rejected the proposal in the Bill to outlaw marital rape saying the electorates argued that in the Japadhola culture, they know that they cannot get anything on a silver platter warning Parliament against adopting foreign cultures.

Rukimirana said that it was this negative public reception of the Bill that informed the position to strike out the contentious clauses and rename the bill the 'Marriage Bill'.

The Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba welcomed the development of reintroducing the Bill saying that it was long overdue. He explained that couples in cohabiting relationships who are the majority in Uganda need the Bill the most.

"The law on sharing of property is long overdue if we actually kill the phobia around the Marriage and Divorce Bill. Most women are used and abused and at the end, they walk out empty handed," Niwagaba said.

Funding Gaps

Meanwhile, while presenting their proposed budget for the coming financial year, the Commission sought for 6.5 billion Shillings need for printing the 7th edition of the Laws of Uganda, both principal and subsidiary laws.

The money is not provided in the budget despite the Commission lagging behind by three years to undertake this exercise.

The Commission's proposed total budget for the coming financial year 18.58 billion Shillings but the Finance Ministry has provided 17.2 billion Shillings.

Besides the funding gaps, the Commission plans in the next financial year to translate the Constitution into Leb-Lango and Rufumbira with the Commission informing the Committee that the Attorney General has been threatened with lawsuits, if the constitution isn't translated in other languages as required by law.


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