The issues in the preliminary hearing for this case were (i) whether the parties were involved in a common law union and what the material dates of that union were and (ii) whether an agreement entered into between the parties barred the applicant from bringing her claim for maintenance and division of property. The applicant alleged that the parties lived together as man and wife for eight years. The respondent claimed the first two years involved a sexual relationship only and that they did not live as man and wife for the last four years of their relationship because the relationship was unstable. He also contended that the parties had “more of a business relationship.” Under Belize law, a “common law union” is a “relationship that is established when a man and woman who are not legally married to each other and to any other person cohabit together continuously as husband and wife for a period of at least five years.” The court analyzed the evidence of the relationship and found the respondent’s evidence to be “lacking in credibility.” The court found there to have been a common law union for eight years.
Women and Justice: Court: Supreme Court of Belize
The petitioner applied to court for dissolution of marriage on the ground of respondent’s adultery, which was granted in 2010. The petitioner then filed for maintenance for herself and their children as well as for other miscellaneous amounts for loans and medical expenses. The court granted maintenance, which was being garnished from respondent’s salary. The respondent contested the continuation of these payments. Under Belize law, upon divorce the court has discretion to order a husband to pay maintenance to his former wife in an amount the court may think to be reasonable for the remainder of her life. The court ordered a continuation of monthly maintenance payments based on the “practice that maintenance is generally awarded on the basis of one-third of the joint incomes of the parties, less the wife’s income” in order to “supply the former wife with the necessaries, comforts, and advantages incidental to her social position.” The claims for loans and medical expenses were dismissed.
The claimant brought a claim of damages for unlawful termination of employment because she alleged she was terminated before her two-year contract had run despite a positive one-year evaluation. She claimed her contract was not renewed because she made reports of sexual harassment by her supervisor to the police. However, that report was made four months after the claimant was informed of the decision not to renew her contract. The court also determined that her contract was a one-year contract. As a result, her claim was dismissed. However, the court “condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the exploitation and degradation of women by predatory male behavior in the workplace” and found that the respondent “has an obligation to not sweep these grave allegations under the rug.” The court urged an investigation into the alleged conduct by claimant’s supervisor and for the respondent to “duly penalize such behavior if substantiated, in keeping with Belize’s national and international obligations to protect the rights of women and children from sexual exploitation under treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence and Discrimination Against Women.”
The Attorney-General of Belize brought a claim under Belize’s Civil Procedure Rules to declare the marriage between the respondent and a 16-year-old minor null and void under the Marriage Act because it was executed without the consent of the child’s father. Section 5 of the Marriage Act requires the consent of both parents before a minor can marry. The court granted the respondent’s application to dismiss the claim because the Attorney-General should have commenced the action by petition under the Matrimonial Causes Rules.
The claimant alleged that her common law husband passed away without a will. His son, the defendant, attempted to evict her from the home she shared with the deceased prior to his death. The claimant responded by bringing this administrative action to remove the son as the deceased’s personal representative and to be recognized as one of the lawful beneficiaries of the estate. The son and the deceased’s other children from previous relationships alleged that the claimant was merely their father’s caretaker, but could provide no evidence she was ever paid and could not explain why she lived with their father prior to him falling ill. Under Belize law, a common law union is defined as “an unmarried man and an unmarried woman, who share a mutual commitment publicly to live their life together as a couple and in fact do so for a continuous period of five years or more.” The typical signs of such a union are that the parties “share the same household; the relationship is stable; there is financial support or the pooling of financial resources; there is a sexual relationship; there is public acknowledgement of the relationship and there may be children.” The court analyzed all evidence presented on the nature of the claimant’s relationship with the deceased and held that the claimant was “the female party to a common-law union with [the deceased] up until the time of his death” and so she was a lawful beneficiary of the estate.
The claimant underwent an exploratory surgery at age 21 to assess the cause of abdominal pain associated with bleeding. During that surgery the doctor removed her womb and left ovary without her consent or a second opinion. The defendants accepted liability and the court was asked to assess damages for breach of duty and for pain and suffering. Under Belize law, the court must restore the claimant to “the position in which she would have been, had it not been for the negligent act.” The claimant’s psychologist explained the psychological impact on the claimant for her loss of “femaleness” and her struggles with “depression, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness.” To quantify her damages, claimant referred the court to awards for infertility in a “woman with severe depression and anxiety” in Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases. The claimant also pointed to a few foreign cases that quantified similar damages. The defense urged the court to be cautious since these cases arose from jurisdictions “which do not share similar social, economic and industrial conditions to Belize.” Defense counsel also attempted to distinguish the physical damage in the cases cited by claimant. The court considered both the fact that claimant’s pecuniary prospects had not changed, as well as her loss of biological motherhood and the psychological damage from loss of her female reproductive organs, and awarded $250,000 in damages.