Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you think or hope that it will. Unfortunately, this can include both your family life and your marriage. If this happens, you may feel that you don’t have a choice but to get a divorce.
Although some Magistrate’s Courts can make orders for spousal or child maintenance, it’s only the High Court which can grant a divorce.
Before you get started, check out our glossary of common terms here!
Our High Court can only grant a divorce where:
Either or both the Petitioner and/or the Respondent’s permanent home is Trinidad and Tobago or they’ve a substantial connection to Trinidad and Tobago when divorce proceedings are filed; or
Either or both the Petitioner and/or the Respondent were residing in Trinidad and Tobago for at least a year before filing for divorce;
The parties have been married for at least a year (If parties have not been married for at least one year, a special application may be made to court of if the Petitioner is suffering exceptional hardship or if there has been exceptional depravity on the part of the Respondent;
Once of these requirements apply, the Court must then consider the grounds upon which you’re seeking a divorce.
Grounds of Divorce
We don’t really recognise the concept of a no-fault divorce in Trinidad and Tobago. Although you can be divorced where you’ve lived apart for five years or where you’ve been separated for two years and both of you consent to getting divorced, in all other cases there has to be an “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.
It is outdated to require someone to be at fault for the breakdown of their marriage but this is hardly a problem in practice. It’s really just formal language to say that one person has to be at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
What this means in theory is the Court can technically say that the grounds of divorce, such as adultery, or unreasonable behaviour, are insufficient to grant the Decree Nisi. In practice, however, this almost never happens. This could be an example of the Court recognising that we are no longer in the day or age where fault has to lie for a marriage to have broken down but, until Parliament changes the law, there’s only so much the Court can do.
The five grounds upon which you can file for divorce include that:
the Respondent has committed adultery and the Petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the Respondent;
the Respondent has behaved in such a way that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent;
the Respondent has deserted the Petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;
the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents to a decree being granted;
that the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
Now depending on the grounds of divorce, when the Respondent receives the Divorce Petition they may choose to challenge these grounds and file what is in essence their own petition defending the grounds that you’ve alleged and alleging an entirely different set of reasons as to why you caused the marriage to break down irretrievably.
If this happens, unless both parties consent to the divorce, on hearing the Court will progress the matter toward a Trial.
If the Respondent does not choose to contest the Divorce Petition, on the first hearing the Petitioner will be sworn in to testify as to the details of the marriage which were sworn to in the Divorce Petition and the Court can then grant a Decree Nisi.
Once a Decree Nisi has been granted, ancillary applications may be filed. These may be for custody, for care and control (another term of art which really just means who the children will live with), for access (essentially, the terms on which the non-resident parent can visit the children) and for any monetary applications whether it be to claim an interest in the matrimonial assets, or for spousal maintenance or for maintenance for the children. These topics will be covered in another post.
Remember, even when you have your Decree Nisi, you are still legally married. It is only when you get the Decree Absolute has the marriage been legally dissolved.
If you don’t intend to claim any financial relief and everything’s squared away with the children, then you can apply for your Decree Absolute 6 weeks after your Decree Nisi has been granted. Although the Petitioner is entitled to file the application for the Decree Absolute firstly, if the Petitioner does not within 3 months of being entitled to do so (that is, 3 months after the 6 week period has passed), then the Respondent may apply.
It is important that either party to do so within 1 year of the Decree Nisi being granted, otherwise additional evidence may be required by the Court explaining the delay before the Decree Nisi is made absolute.
Applying for the Decree Nisi to be made absolute is simply done by the filing of an application (shown in Form 13 below) in the Registry of the Family Court or through the E-Services filing platform (which you can read about here).
Of course, any document filed will need to have the filing party's contact information and address and set out the names of the parties inserted.
Once granted, the Decree Absolute (as with the Decree Nisi) would be sent to the parties by email, to the email address which the Court Office has on record.
Last updated: 21st February 2024