By: Omar Silva, Editor National Perspective Belize
Belize City, Sunday: 5th November 2023
In Belize, the road to marriage is straightforward and affordable, with a marriage license costing a mere $50. However, when it comes to divorce, the story takes a different turn. Obtaining a divorce in Belize can be a financial burden, leaving individuals trapped in chaotic and unstable marriages. This not only affects the lives of adults but also has dire consequences for the children involved, ultimately contributing to the social disintegration of society as a whole.
The Costly Barrier to Freedom:
The current divorce process in Belize demands a legal consultation fee from a mere $50 at the Legal Aid Centre to up to between $350 and $500 for Private Attorneys. After the consultation, there is a whopping cost of $1,500 to pay for legal fees, adding to the already significant financial burden. Moreover, there is a requirement for a two-week notice published in a local newspaper, costing approximately $450 per notice per week. This exorbitant cost is equally burdensome whether one seeks assistance from private law attorneys or the Belize Legal Aid Foundation. As a result, countless men and women find themselves stuck in turbulent marriages, facing violence, mental and physical abuse, and torment, simply because escaping the marriage is financially unattainable.
Behind closed doors, many individuals suffer in silence due to the shame and embarrassment associated with their marital situation. Women have lost their lives at the hands of estranged husbands, while men endure abuse and harassment. Many are afraid to report these incidents to the police because they remain legally bound to their spouses by marriage. This silent suffering perpetuates a cycle of violence and instability within households.
One of the major issues exacerbating this problem is the lack of importance given to divorce cases by the high courts in Belize. The legal human rights of individuals seeking to end their marriages for valid reasons often take a back seat. While the Legal Aid Foundation is supposed to assist individuals in various situations, it must also prioritize the integrity of those applying for divorce based on reason and cause.
The Call for Urgent Change:
It is high time for Belize legislators to address this pressing issue. They must carefully examine the consequences and causes of domestic violence within marriages, which often remain hidden until tragedy strikes. The current legal system does not prioritize divorces that could prevent such tragedies. It is crucial for the government to take action and implement reforms that make divorce accessible, affordable, and efficient for all, regardless of their financial situation.
We propose the enactment of a law that provides a window of opportunity for individuals applying for divorce with reasonable cause. This law should simplify the process and eliminate unnecessary legal knots, making it as affordable as the $50 marriage license. It is essential to create a legal framework that allows for divorce by consent of the parties in non-contentious proceedings, reducing the financial burden on individuals seeking to end tumultuous marriages.
The Urgent Need to Expedite Divorce Proceedings:
In addition to the burdensome costs, there is a waiting period for the Divorce Petition to be heard that sometimes exceeds over one year before it becomes final. Many times, this comes at the cost of mental and physical abuse and cruelty by one party towards the other. The urgency of reforming the divorce process cannot be overstated. Every day that goes by with a delayed divorce hearing prolongs the suffering of individuals trapped in abusive relationships.
The current state of divorce in Belize is not only financially burdensome but also perpetuates violence, suffering, and instability within families. It is the responsibility of legislators to prioritize the well-being and human rights of their citizens. By making divorce accessible, affordable, and expeditious, Belize can take a significant step towards breaking the chains of chaos, protecting individuals from harm, and promoting a more stable and harmonious society. It is time to act urgently, for the sake of countless men, women, and children trapped in tumultuous marriages.