Zimbabwe recognizes two types of divorces, the simple or uncontested divorce and the opposed or contested divorce. The first type is the easiest to achieve since both parties wish to terminate the marriage and have agreed to the broad terms of the separation. Whichever type of divorce you're filing, the court has final discretion over such matters as child custody, child support and the division of property.
Grounds for Divorce
There are two grounds for divorce under the laws of Zimbabwe: irretrievable breakdown of a marriage, and incurable mental illness or continuous unconsciousness of one of the parties to the marriage. The spouse who is filing for divorce must establish one of the grounds whether or not the divorce is contested; however, the court will examine the allegations in detail only if the divorce is opposed.
The process starts by filing a summons with the High Court in the district where the initiating spouse lives. If the divorce is uncontested and all ancillary issues such as child custody, maintenance and property division are agreed, the parties will simply sign consent documents for filing with the court. The process is relatively quick and cost-effective. Contested divorces follow various litigation stages from filing the summons and disclosure of documents that each spouse intends to use at trial, to a hearing before a judge. Each party usually will be represented by a lawyer, though this is not mandatory.
Distribution of Assets
On divorce, property is divided in accordance with the principles set out in the laws of Zimbabwe and specifically, the Matrimonial Causes Act. Broadly, a court may divide both matrimonial property and the personal assets of either spouse in a fair and equitable manner. Assets owned by the spouses individually – even those acquired before marriage – are considered when deciding how to apportion property. The court will look at the relative resources and income-earning capacity of both spouses, and the non-financial contribution made to the family, including contributions made by looking after hearth and home, when deciding how to divide assets.
Custody of Minor Children
Unlike in the United States, Zimbabwe laws favor the granting of sole custody to one parent, usually the mother, on the basis that the child must know where she stands. The guiding principle is the best interests of the minor child. In determining what is the child's best interest, the court will consider the child's age, sex, health, education and religious needs as well as the behavior and financial position of each parent. The non-custodial parent has the right of reasonable visitation to the child which the court will only refuse under exceptional circumstances.
Responsibility for child maintenance rests with both parents. The court will make an order for child support based on the lifestyle of the child and the parent's respective incomes. Child support stops when the child reaches 18 years of age unless the child is still dependent on his parents, for example, is still in school. The obligation to pay child support does not end when one party remarries or an additional child is born.
Zimbabwe law does not guarantee the payment of spousal maintenance after the divorce has been finalized. It is up to the spouse claiming maintenance to show that she is not in a position to maintain herself and therefore needs assistance from her former spouse. Where the spouse is still young and earns a reasonable income, then maintenance may not be granted. Either parent can make an application for an upward or downward variation in spousal maintenance at any time after the divorce if circumstances change.
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A former corporate real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and personal finance, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.