Ask A Lawyer – My husband wants me to quit my job

istockDear Lawyer,
“Around March last year, my husband requested that I quit my job and
devote more time to caring for our kids. We have two kids, have been
married for 6 years and we were doing just fine. We have a nanny so I
don’t see why I have to quit my full time job. It has been hell in my
home because of my refusal to quit my job. He is controlling and does
not even seek my opinion in this. He says his decision as family head
is final. It is becoming unbearable and I am considering divorce. My
friends say that I cannot get divorce barely on the grounds that my
husband is forcing me to quit my job. Is it even legal for him to
demand that I quit my job?
Thanks
S.M
Buea

Ask LawyerDear SM,

There are basically two issues I have identified in your case which needs to be dealt with and they are:

ISSUE No. I                                                                                                                    

The legality of your husband’s request for you to quit your job.
Question:Can a husband in his capacity make such an imposition on the wife and is it legal?

THE LAW:

The Black’s law dictionary defines marriage as the “legal union of a couple as spouses”. Another definition is given by the honorable Justice Nganjie in the case of Motanga v Motanga (Suit No. HCB/2/76 Unreported)where he defined marriage in this manner, “To my mind, a marriage as known to the law of this country is the union between a man and one or more women to the exclusion of all others.”Some other scholars define marriage as a contractual relationship between a man and one or more women.

If we look at it from the position of a contract, it will mean looking at one of the most vital ingredients of a valid contract which is consent. Consent to get into a marriage doesn’t end at getting into it, it extends to decision making in the marriage as an ingredient for any workable and happy marriage. When it comes to decision making in any marriage, the parties must always or at least most of the time be “ad idem” (Agree) with regards to all or at least so many marital issues.

Looking at your case, when a woman marries a man, it’s not as if she, in any way relinquishes her rights (Fundamental Human Rights) as a woman to the husband by virtue of that marriage. The right of a woman to work is an inalienable right she possesses just as the man and nobody can take that right away from her unless she consents to same void of any coercion.

In your case where it is your husband imposing and forcing you to quit your job, you certainly have the full protection of the law with regards to such kind of treatment which I will term Violation, which to my mind could be attributed to some form of domestic violence. The only difference is that there is no physical injury which may only be a matter of time if he is the violent type but there is some emotional and psychological harm being inflicted you.

The preamble of the Cameroonian constitution which is the grand norm of the country provides that, the state shall guarantee all citizens of either sex (Male and Female) the rights and freedoms set forth in the constitution. One of such rights and freedoms set forth in the constitution is that, every person shall have the right and the obligation to work. Thus, the right to work is your constitutional right, not something that can be taken away from you by your husband just because he says so. It is also the law in Cameroon that, the state shall protect and promote the family which is the natural foundation of human society and it goes further to state that, the state shall protect women…Therefore, every woman (you Inclusive) found in this position should be rest assured that the law will always be on her side for protection.

Furthermore, article 16 on the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women accords to all women a good number of rights ranging from the right to enter into a marriage, the right to choose a spouse and to enter into the marriage only with her free and full consent… and above all, it accords to a woman in article 16 (d)the personal rights of a woman to choose a profession and an occupation (The right to work).

 ISSUE No. II

The second issue is whether you can succeed if you petition for divorce on the grounds that your husband is pestering you to quit your job and take care of the children.

THE LAW:

In dealing with this second issue, my answer shall be based strictly on Family law in Anglophone Cameroon given that you and your husband are domiciled in Buea.

The test to be applied here to consider whether the courts can actually grant a petition for divorce on the ground of your husband’s behavior is the objective test. The objective test as per Dunn J in the case Livingston stallard v. Livingstone stallard (1974) 2 ALL E.R. goes thus: “would any right thinking person come to the conclusion that the husband (your husband) has behaved in such a way that his wife (you SM) cannot reasonably be expected to live with him taking into account the whole of the circumstances and the characters and personalities of the parties” If the answer is yes, then it will be important to understand that for a divorce petition to succeed under Family Law in Anglophone Cameroon, there is only one thing which you as the petitioner must establish which is, “That the marriage has broken down irretrievably”.

For it to be held that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, you must be able to establish in court and disclose facts which go beyond ordinary wear and tear of married life as stated by Justice Mbuagbaw in Elad v Elad (Suit No. HCSW/3MC/85 Unreported).

To establish that a marriage has broken down irretrievably, there are a number of facts, one or more of which, you must be able to prove to the satisfaction of the court. They range from adultery, to desertion, Behavior, living apart for two years or living apart for five years. But for the purpose of your question, I shall limit myself to that which best suits your case as found in section 2(b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which is to the effect that, for you to establish that your marriage has broken down irretrievably, you must prove that the other party (your husband) has behaved in such a way that you (the petitioner) cannot reasonably be expected to live with him”.

Most often than not behavior in this situation connotes cruelty or violent conduct by one party towards the other and which to prove, the person alleging cruelty has to prove injury (Physical) as a sign of the gravity of the conduct but behavior which is defined as the way a person acts or behaves has in many instances been looked at from a much more broader and multifaceted perspective.

If you consider your husband’s behavior to be unreasonable and for which you believe  you have suffered severe psychological and emotional hardship to the point where you believe you cannot continue to live with him under such circumstances, and you are able to prove that to the satisfaction of the court on the balance of probability, then the court will certainly grant the divorce. Your husband asking you to quit your full time job so as to stay home and take care of the kids without seeking your consent and him planning to make life hell at home for you suffices. Thus where a wife like yourself develops mental stress as a result of her husband behavior towards her which in turns makes life miserable for her, a divorce would most certainly be granted if petitioned for.

CONCLUSION

From the totality of the foregoing, it is not legal for your husband to forcefully request that you quit your job to take care of the a children without seeking your consent and also giving that an alternative arrangement could always be made. The decision of a woman to quit her job and take care of her children should be made out of her free will and consent void of any form of coercion and pressure from her husband or a third party and above all, it should be based on mutual understanding between the wife and the husband. As a matter of fact, dialogue between both spouses on the possibility and the workability of such an arrangement after weighing the pros and cons should be the best line of action. There is no legality in a man’s decision to forcefully ask the wife to quit her job and take care of their children without her consent.

With regards to the second issue, giving the facts, a petition for divorce would definitely be granted on the grounds of behavior. I.e. The unreasonable behavior of the husband.

 

Barrister Ataubo Buriya Unuase Barrister Ataubo Buriya Unuase is a graduate from the University of Buea. He obtained his Barrister-at-law certificate from Sierra Leone Law School after which he was called to the Cameroon Bar. He is a former associate of Barrister Kemende Henry at Posterity Law Office. He is  the founder and managing advocate of GOSHEN LAW OFFICE (Ataubo Buriya Chambers).

Barrister Ataubo Buriya has a keen interest in Human Rights (Women and Children’s rights) and Emi/Immigration issues. He is based in Bamenda,  North West Region of Cameroon.

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