Over 2000 Namibians divorce

By Maria Kandjungu

DEESPITE the high cost of divorce, Namibians are still not living up to their holy matrimony vows after the high court dissolved 2 159 marriages within the last two years.

Statistics by Judiciary provided to Confidente on request show that about 2 864 Namibians approached the High Court at Oshakati and Windhoek to relieve them of their marriage bonds between 2018 and 2019. Of those, 2 159 divorces were processed and finalised and 705 were still pending finalisation. The statistics further show that 87 spouses later made a u-turn on their divorces and withdrew their divorce applications.

The data nevertheless shows a slight drop in the divorce rate last year as the courts received fewer applications during the year under review compared to the previous financial year. Whereas, a total of 1 442 divorce cases were registered for the year 2018, 1 260 with the Windhoek high court of which 1 144 divorces were finalised and 182 with the Oshakati high court, where 153 marriages were dissolved. The high court received 1 422 divorce applications in 2019, 1 224 in Windhoek and 198 in Oshakati, of those 726 were finalised in Windhoek while the Oshakati high court finalised 136 cases.

Divorce in Namibia is sometimes a lengthy and costly process that is said to be discouraging. A 2013 survey by the Legal Assistance Centre indicated that the average cost of an unopposed divorce was between N$5000 and N$10 000, while an opposed case typically costs about N$30 000 but can reach up to N$100 000 depending on the time it takes to finalise the case.

Given the cumbersome court proceedings and intricate legal technicalities, at the moment the thorny divorce route is certainly not possible to undertake without legal representation, and the process is often described as “long, traumatic and costly”, especially because divorce cases are currently only heard by the High Court in Windhoek and Oshakati.

Statistics by the Ministry of justice to Confidente shows that the ministry received about 788 applications of spouses seeking the assistance of government lawyers to help dissolve their marriages between April 2017 and March 2019. Of those, 278 were granted the aid, 40 were refused on basis that their income was above the threshold, while 450 were still pending final decision due lack sufficient supporting document.

Reforms are underway to review and amend Namibia’s outdated divorce law, which was inherited lock, stock and barrel from South Africa. The law as it stands requires one party to prove culpability or fault in the other, meaning they must prove that the other person did something wrong – usually in some form of desertion, abuse, neglect or adultery – for divorce to be granted.

Who is to blame for the breakdown in a marriage can at times be difficult to prove. The proposed amendment of the law aims to make it easier for people to end unhappy marriages on the basis of irreconcilable differences, without the need to prove the other person’s guilt or blameworthiness, but also to make the separation process less complicated.

Furthermore, the current law requires at least one spouse to appear in person, which adds to the already high legal expenses, especially for those living outside Windhoek and Oshakati, who are then required to travel to the High Court. The new amendments propose to give regional courts the jurisdiction to handle divorce cases, making it more affordable and easier as litigation in the lower courts is less expensive than the High Court.

Comprehensive research on the subject has been done. The Bill, according to Ministry of Justice executive director Issaskar Ndjoze, is with the Cabinet Committee on legislation for further scrutiny. This will be the last stage before it is referred to the drafters for finalisation. The long-awaited Bill is then expected to be tabled in Parliament by Justice Minister Yvonne Dausab sometime this year.