Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
THE High Court in Bulawayo received 673 divorce applications between January and December last year, marking a sharp decrease compared to 820 in the previous year.
However, the number of couples who had their marriages solemnised by magistrates at the Bulawayo’s Tredgold Building increased to 1 267 in 2019 compared to the previous year when 1 192 couples exchanged marriages vows.
The statistics obtained from the Bulawayo High Court yesterday show that out of about 2 000 summons filed, divorce applications ruled the roost.
Lawyers who handle divorce cases attributed the decline in divorce cases to exorbitant legal fees coupled with the economic hardships.
“Looking at the new tariffs that have been introduced by the Law Society of Zimbabwe where a plaintiff has to part with $18 000 for an uncontested divorce, it automatically becomes a contributory factor when we look at the decline in terms of the number of divorce cases,” said Mr Bruce Masamvu of Mutatu, Masamvu and Da Silva Gustavo Law Chambers.
According to the latest Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) tariffs, fees for an uncontested divorce cases shot up by more than 100 percent from $7 200 to $18 000 for the plaintiff.
A defendant in an uncontested divorce case is obliged to part with $12 000.
Mr Masamvu said most people were now opting to go for counselling instead of divorcing.
“Another factor is that divorce also comes with more responsibilities such as maintenances issues and in some cases one spouse is forced to move out of the matrimonial house. Many couples end up resorting to marriage counsellors to save their marriages given the economic harships people are facing,” he said.
Bulawayo family law expert, Ms Marygold Nomthandazo Sibanda of Vundhla-Phulu and Partners, concurred. “Basically, the decline in the number of divorce cases last year can be largely due to a sharp increase in legal fees. In fact, people are being deterred by the ever-increasing legal fees, which continue to go up due to the economic instability,” she said.
Ms Sibanda also cited the economic hardships as a reason for couples to divorce, saying lack of financial stability also contributes to the collapse of marriages.
“Most women are now financially independent and they can now afford to look after themselves and the family unlike in the past when they would solely rely on their spouses. We also have people who are also getting married for wrong reasons and that contributes to divorce cases,” said Ms Sibanda.
Retired High Court judge, Justice Lawrence Kamocha weighed in. “Divorces are largely caused by the economic challenges in the country, which have forced spouses to stay apart thereby creating a very unhealthy marital set up. During my time at the High Court I handled quite a lot of divorce cases during which I noted that the leading cause of divorce was infidelity. You have a spouse working in the diaspora while the other remains behind and human beings by nature tend to get attracted elsewhere, leading to divorce,” he said.
Justice Kamocha said newly wed and fairly young couples were dominating in divorce. He urged parents to stop interfering with their children’s marriages, saying it contributed to divorce cases.
“You also have family related issues such as young couples who would not have been weaned off by their parents. Parents should let their children run their families and learn from each other so that they don’t rely too much on them. Once a child is married, he or she must be weaned off and parents should let them start their home independently without any form of interference. They should just offer them guidance,” he said.
“The issue of either physical or emotional violence is another factor. You find a person who still beats their spouse, obviously that family won’t go anywhere.”
Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe president Bishop Johannes Ndanga said financial problems and gender equality were causing disputes in the homes.
“The sources of income in the homes are shrinking and disputes are on the increase. Most family disputes revolve around financial issues. If the couples are hungry, they tend to fight or even divorce,” he said.
Bishop Ndanga said gender equality that has seen more women turning into breadwinners has also caused marriage breakdowns.
“Traditionally, women used to stay at home as their husbands went to work to fend for the family as breadwinners. Tables have turned as women are now slowly becoming breadwinners. Most men are failing to accept that their wives can look after them hence such an exchange in the family roles has sparked disputes as men end up feeling as if they’re being controlled by their wives,” he said.
Reverend Layton Maphula of Full Gospel Church in Zimbabwe, who is also a marriage officer, said the breakdown of the extended family system has left the young couples to make their own rushed decisions, a development that has seen families breaking up.
He urged the church, family elders and the community at large to assist in counselling young couples to save marriages.
“The collapse in marriages is due to the growing traditional and cultural family disintegration, which used to play a pivotal role in marriage counselling and alternative methods of marital dispute resolution. We have people entering marriage not fully ripe and mature resulting in problems.
“The issue of adultery and lack of respect and commitment is another major factor and the solution is to fear God,” said Rev Maphula.
In 2018, a total of 2 634 couples filed for divorce at the country’s four permanent High Court stations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo. — @mashnets