The Court of appeal, on the 15th November 2022, at the family division of the high court made a ruling over matrimonial property, where a new stand law was taken concerning sharing of matrimonial property dependent on one’s contribution which will either be in monetary or non-monetary form or both.
The Justices of the Court of Appeal, Elizabeth Musoke, Muzamiru Kibeedi, and Christopher Gashirabake made the pronouncement that marriage is not a guarantee for equal sharing of matrimonial property, with other far reaching consequences on the rights of married persons in matrimonial properties when they divorce.
According to the Justices, the monetary contribution usually consists of unpaid care and domestic work rendered by a spouse during marriage, like caring for the children, elderly, sick family members, household chores and contributing food for the family among others.
“When court is determining the value of the unpaid care and domestic work rendered during the marriage, it should take into account monetary valve principles like the value or cost of similar services available on market,” said Justice Musoke.
Uganda Law Reform Commission states that, marriage is a legal union of couple as a husband and wife, under article 31(1) a person of the age 18 years and above has a right to marry. The forms of marriages recognized in Uganda include marriages conducted in accordance with the marriage Act-cap.251, customary marriage. Act Cap.248, the Marriage and Divorce of Mohammedans Act, Cap.251, the Hindi Marriage and Divorce Act, Act Cap.250 and Marriages contracted under or in accordance with any customary law recognized by the law of Uganda. A person can contract marriage in any of the above.
The law relating to Matrimonial property is hinged on the concept of marriage. The law only and strictly applies to married and formerly married persons.
The law relating to matrimonial property in Uganda has come a long way. To best understand the evolution of matrimonial property law, it is relevant to understand the social perception of women’s property in Uganda at different times.
According to Twinomujuni Jain Julius Rwabinumi V Hope Bahimbisomwe Civil Appeal no.30 of 2007, a woman was regarded as a property of the man and totally incapable of holding property of her own independently of the man. As a result the earlier decisions held that women in matrimonial relationships could not acquire and hold real property.
On the other hand, Ugandan laws do not recognize cohabitation as a formal union under the law, regardless of the duration of time the two have lived together. This vacuum is created due to the notion and assumptions that women do not own property.
This legal assumption however undermines women’s contributions to land and property ownership. This is why women in cohabitation need to be aware to their rights or lack thereof, and take steps to protect themselves.
The assumption that women are men’s property is evolving and changing with time, and the new law stand may not be 100%, but it at least recognizes the efforts and place of women in marriages and society.