Accra, March 21, GNA - The African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA), on Monday called for a definite interpretation and enforcement of laws on equitable distribution of properties belonging to spouses. Nana Oye Lithur, AWLA Coordinator, noted that Article 22 of the 1992 Constitution said: "Spouses have equal access to property jointly acquired during marriage and their assets shall be distributed equitably when the marriage is dissolved".
Parliament was also enjoined under the Constitution to pass a law regulating the property rights of spouses, she said in a paper submitted to Parliament by the Association.
She explained that one of the major obstacles to equality in distributing spousal properties was the implementation of an effective system that would cover all forms of marriages in Ghana including customary law, Islamic and Ordinance marriages.
"Though a law exists to regulate distribution of property when the marriage is being dissolved, (the matrimonial causes Acts of 1971), the main criticism of this approach is the use of discretion and the absence of steps to be followed when distributing property between spouses." It is common for a husband to be the registered owner of the matrimonial property even though the property may be owned jointly, she said, stressing that men often assumed ownership of the matrimonial property creating difficulty for women, whose names were not on the title deeds to prove an interest in the property.
Nana Oye Lithur said the courts had applied the principle that a spouse claiming jointly acquired matrimonial property upon the dissolution of the marriage must show an agreement between the spouses that they intended to acquire the property jointly.
The spouse must also show evidence of financial and non-financial contribution towards the acquisition of the property.
Nana Oye suggested the formulation of legislations and principles to determine a spouse's interest based on certain pre-determinable factors.
She called on Parliament to consider the Ghana Law Reform Commission's guidelines for distributing matrimonial property.
The guidelines suggested consideration of financial or non-financial contribution made directly or indirectly by a party to the marriage for the acquisition or maintenance of the property.
The contribution made by a spouse to the welfare of the family such as home keeping, washing or cooking should be included.
"The contribution in kind of a spouse (especially a non-working spouse) should be properly quantified.
"Where the spouses have equal earning capacities or very nearly so, then unless one of them can prove that the other did not use his or her earnings towards acquiring a particular matrimonial property, they should be entitled to equal share in the property."
Nana Oye appealed to Parliament to re-consider a draft bill prepared by the Attorney General in 1999, which clarified some definitions relating to matrimonial property.
The definition stated that "contribution" includes monetary or non-monetary contribution such as labour, domestic work, management of the home and children while "matrimonial property" are assets acquired by both spouses during marriage.
This includes the matrimonial home, household property, land, an interest in assets acquired before the marriage when one of the spouses has contributed to the improvement and maintenance of the property. Nana Oye who is also the Coordinator of African Regional Office of the Commonwealth Humana Rights Initiative said adoption of the Bill would strengthen protection afforded to the property rights of spouses.
She said just as important as such a legislation, however, was a need to implement a national sensitisation programme to create awareness of the Bill on Property Rights of Spouses.