Women and Justice: Keywords

Domestic Case Law

Clayton v. Clayton Supreme Court of New Zealand (2016)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Property and inheritance rights

This case concerned the determination of what constitutes relationship property in a divorce proceeding and how trusts may affect this determination (e.g. if a sham trust is implemented to hide assets, therefore affecting a woman’s economic rights in a divorce).  The term “relationship property” is defined in the Property Relationships Act of 1976, the principles of which focus on the equality of spouses and that at the end of a relationship, any economic divisions should reflect equal contributions made by the couple during the relationship.  However, any property constituting “trust property” is not available for division under the PRA.  In this case, the parties had been married for 17 years with two daughters.  During the marriage, the respondent-husband had become a successful business owner and set up several discretionary trusts.  The trusts ostensibly related to the business he had established.  The appellant-wife had assisted with her husband’s business ventures and was the main childcare provider during their marriage.  The Court concluded that, in this case, the powers under a trust deed constituted “property” under the PRA.  In applying the two-stage approach of section 182, the Court concluded that one of the discretionary trusts settled during the Clayton’s marriage constituted a nuptial trust under §182 of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 because of its connection to the marriage.  The court found that the “nature of the assets is not determinative of whether the settlement is nuptial or not,” and that a settlement “made for business reasons” and containing business assets can be a nuptial settlement.  The New Zealand Women’s Law Journal described this as a “decision that provided a much-needed step towards a more equal recognition of the traditional economic disadvantages faced by women.”

Lesia v. Lesia High Court of Lesotho (2013)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Mrs. Lesia filed an application for relief against her husband, alleging that he abandoned his family, abused her, and was attempting to sell their home without her consent. She alleged that she built and paid for the home, and so sought to have her husband enjoined from selling it. The court issued an interim order granting the requested relief. The defendant disregarded the court order, continued his efforts to sell the home, and threatened to kill Mrs. Lesia if she kept interfering.  To justify his rejection of the court order, the defendant claimed that he was not married to Mrs. Lesia, and that she had no right to file any applications against him. The court upheld Mrs. Lesia’s right to seek judicial intervention and sentenced the defendant to 30 days in jail for willfully disobeying the court’s order.  

Williams v. Wynn Supreme Court of Liberia (1914)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

This case established a precedent for property rights of a widow when her husband dies intestate. On appeal, the Supreme Court excluded from probate ten acres of land to which Ms. Williams claimed title. Ms. Williams’ husband died intestate and the executor of his estate, appointed by the Probate Court, included all real and personal property from the marriage in determining the assets of the estate. Ms. Williams claimed that she held title to ten acres of property that her husband had purchased through a third party, with title vesting in the wife. The executor argued, and the trial court held, that all property acquired through the husband could be made liable for his debts. The trial court relied upon the Constitution of Liberia, which states “The property of which a woman may be possessed at the time of her marriage and also that of which she may afterwards become possessed, otherwise than by her husband shall not be held responsible for his debts.” The court reasoned that this clause implies that property acquired through her husband could be held liable for his debts. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that if a husband acquires property in the name of a third party, who becomes the medium through which title vests in the wife, the wife has an absolute right in that property and is not liable for the claims of the husband’s creditors. The court failed to apply this holding to personal property of the marriage, however, stating that instead personal property procured and owned by the deceased for the common use of the household is an asset of the estate.

Mensah v. Mensah Supreme Court of Ghana (2011)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, International law, Property and inheritance rights

The petitioner filed for divorce and sought an equal share of assets acquired during the marriage.  At the time of marriage, neither party owned any property.  During their marriage, the plaintiff assisted in building their business and managed their shop while her husband continued to work for the Controller and Accountant General's Department.  The plaintiff also advised the respondent on property investments.  The respondent denied that the petitioner contributed to the business and claimed that she embezzled money from him, and therefore should not be considered an equal holder of marital assets.  The trial court and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the petitioner, finding that she was a joint owner of the property and was therefore entitled to an equal share of the marital assets.  The Supreme Court affirmed.  Previous case law denied a wife a share in property acquired during the marriage unless the wife could show that she had made a "substantial contribution" to the acquirement of these assets.  Yet, because more recent cases supported the "equality is equity" principle in the division of marital assets, the Supreme Court concluded that "the death knell has been sung to the substantial contribution principle, making way for the equitable distribution as provided for under Article 22 (3) of the Constitution 1992."  Thus, the court held that even if it determined that the petitioner did not make a substantial contribution to the acquisition of marital property, she would still be entitled to a share of the property.  To further support its decision, the Supreme Court referenced Article 1 and Article 5 of CEDAW, in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasize equality between the sexes.

J.Y. Interpretation No.410 Supreme Court of Taiwan (1996)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

A Supreme Court precedent from 1966 held that property obtained by a wife during the continuance of a marriage, but which cannot be proved separate property or contributed property, belongs to the husband.  The amendment of the Civil Code in 1985 under the authority of Article 7 of the Constitution emphasizes gender equity and invalidates this Supreme Court precedent.

Cour d'appel de Rennes CT0011, 9 mai 2006, No. 634 Cour d'appel de Rennes (2006)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Domestic and intimate partner violence

The family court awarded the marital home to Appellant's wife under Section 220-1 of the Civil Code, which provides that where one spouse threatens or perpetrates violence, the judge may rule that the couple should live apart, allocating the marital dwelling to the spouse who was not the perpetrator of the violence. Appellant appealed on the grounds that he had limited income, that the dwelling was his childhood home, that his wife had left voluntarily, and that she, a native of Algeria, had only married him for a French residence permit. The Court of Appeals found that there was ample evidence, such as medical reports, proving that the husband had committed violent acts against his wife on multiple occasions, that the wife had left the marital home because of such violence, and that there was no evidence that she had tried to terminate the marriage upon receipt of her residence permit. Furthermore, the Court stated that temporary housing in a women's shelter run by SOS Femmes was not tantamount to the wife's finding other lodging. The Court of Appeals therefore rejected the appeal and upheld the family court's decision to award the marital home to Appellant's wife.

La cour de famille a accordé la maison conjugale à la femme de l’appelant en vertu de l’article 220-1 de la code civile, qui prévoit que lorsqu’un époux ou une épouse menace ou nuit de façon violente, un juge peut decider que le couple devrait vivre à part et peut accorder la maison conjugale à l’époux ou épouse victime. L’époux a fait appel pour les raisons suivantes: son revenu était limité, la domicile était sa maison d’enfance, et les allégations que sa femme lui a quitté volontairement et que sa femme (originaire d’Algérie) lui a marié pour un permis de residence Française. La cour a trouvé qu’il exisait suffisament de preuve, comme des rapports de medecin, montrant que l’époux a commis des actes de violence contre sa femme plusieurs fois, que la femme a quitté la maison conjugale à cause de ces actes violentes, et qu’il n’y existait aucun preuve qu’elle a essayé de terminer le marriage suivant la reception de son permis de residence. De plus, le cour a déclaré que le fait que l’épouse s’est logée dans un abri géré par SOS Femmes n’était pas l’équivalent de trouver un logement autre que la maison conjugale. La cour a donc rejeté l’appel et a affirmé la decision de la cour de famille.  


Agreements Between Cohabitants in Louisiana, U.S.A (2011)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage

This memorandum examines the definition of cohabitation and its effect upon agreements between cohabitants in Louisiana, U.S.A.