16 Divorce

Cayman Islands Family Law & Divorce Attorneys

Hampson and Company represents clients in marital and family cases in the Cayman Islands, including complex and high-net-worth divorces.

Hampson and Company is recognised as a premier matrimonial and family law firm in the Cayman Islands. It consistently receives praise for its work from a varied and high value client list, and enjoys a proven track record in contentious and non-contentious matters.

The family law team offers a wealth of experience across a range of disputes, both financial and children based. Our attorneys have participated in many of the most important and complex matrimonial and custody proceedings within the jurisdiction, and are at the forefront of the development of family law in the Cayman Islands, with many of their cases reported in the Cayman Islands Law Reports.

The vast majority of divorces are not determined by a judge and don’t go to court. They are typically resolved through various processes including mediation, collaborative law or Financial Dispute Resolution. There is no one size fits all solution, since each family circumstance and each client’s case is unique, however, non-confrontational resolution has a much higher success rate in the longer term.

At each point in the process we discuss your circumstances and your desired outcome. We will advise you as to the law and the best method to achieve that outcome. We will review any relevant documents such as a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement. A court will always seek a financial resolution that is fair based on the fundamental premise that marriage is a partnership of equals. On reviewing your financial position we will be able to advise you as to your entitlement, allowing you to move forward confidently.

Hampson and Company prides itself on a pragmatic and client-centred approach. With expertise in all aspects of alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, our family law team is able to provide our clients with a full range of innovative options.

Family & divorce FAQs

How do you get divorced in the Cayman Islands?

To start the process of ending your marriage in the Cayman Islands, you will need to file a petition. By filing this document, you are asking the court to legally dissolve your marriage.

What is a petition?

A petition is a relatively straightforward pleading which is filed in the Family Division of the Grand Court. The document will refer to the spouse who commences the procedure as the “petitioner” and the other spouse is referred to as “the respondent”. The petition sets out the background facts, such as the names of the parties, the date of marriage, where the parties have lived and whether there are children. It also sets out the grounds for the divorce.

What are the grounds for a divorce?

The court has to be satisfied that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This breakdown is evidenced by one (or more) of the following five grounds that you set out in the petition. The grounds are:

  • That the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent; (the adultery ground).
  • That the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent; (the unreasonable behaviour ground).
  • That the respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of two years immediately preceding the petition; (the desertion ground).
  • That the parties have lived apart for a continuous period of two years and the respondent consents to the decree of dissolution being pronounced; (the two-year separation with consent ground).
  • That the parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of five years. (the 5-year separation ground).
What is unreasonable behaviour?

Unreasonable behaviour is the most commonly used ground for divorce. This is so as it covers a broad range of behaviours on the part of a respondent spouse. It can cover abusive behaviour, unacceptable habits, irresponsible spending, excessive drinking or drug usage, inappropriate friendships (especially those where adultery may be hard to prove), a lack of concentration or focus on the marriage, not being home enough, violence or even just a lack of devotion to the marriage. The list is almost endless and no two petitions for unreasonable behaviour are exactly the same. The question is whether the respondent’s behaviour is such that the petitioner should not have to live with the respondent? The requirement is now interpreted quite tolerantly and realistically, such that the court is unlikely to make two people live together when one party is asserting that the marriage is over.

Can I prepare a petition myself?

While it is possible to prepare and file your own petition, there are precise details and a specific format of pleading that is required. Attorneys almost always are instructed to prepare and file the petition and preparing and presenting the petition is not in and of itself an expensive part of the process.

What happens next?

The petition is served on the other spouse. They then have 14 days to say whether they are defending the petition or not. It is very rare that the petition is defended these days, especially as it now makes little or no difference to the division of assets. This happens without examination of relative fault. If the petition is not defended then the court will make an order that the grounds for the petition are proved and will adjourn the hearing of the financial and / or children related issues to “chambers”, where the proceedings are private, and no other members of the public are allowed to be present.

Can I apply for interim maintenance or use of the home or even legal fees if there are urgent circumstances?

Yes. Section 20 of the Matrimonial Causes Act (2005 Revision) allows for either party to apply for interim orders concerning the children, the use of the matrimonial home (especially if there has been violence), periodic payments pending the finalization of the proceedings, and / or protection from the other spouse. The court can in certain circumstances even order a legal costs allowance from your spouse. Your attorney will be able to advise you on all such matters.

What if my spouse and I agree on everything?

If the parties agree the division of their assets between them, and / or the arrangements for the children, then the lawyers can draw up the terms of an agreement in the form of a court order. If the judge feels it is fair, he can sign it administratively, without the need for any court appearance.

What if we can’t agree? Is there mediation?

If the parties cannot agree what is to happen to either (i) the assets of the marriage; or (ii) how the needs of each party are to be met; and / or (iii) how any matters surrounding the children are to be fairly resolved (i.e., their education, visitation, how their costs are to be provided for etc.), the court will direct that the parties attend compulsory mediation. There is a court family mediator who is experienced in assisting the parties to try and agree the way forward. Our attorneys regularly assist parties in mediation.

But what if mediation doesn’t work?

If mediation doesn’t resolve all issues (or only some of them) then the final resolution will be achieved by having a judge decide after the holding of a trial in front of a Grand Court Judge. The parties will first have to disclose their assets to each other (a process known as discovery). They will thereafter set about proving their claims and needs by setting out in an affidavit (a sworn written statement) what the assets of the marriage are and attach any valuation of assets (such as real estate). If they want to claim financial payments from the other spouse they will have to support the claim by presenting a fair and reasonable budget. Preparing evidence in writing effectively can be time consuming but it is a critical step when presenting a credible and compelling argument to the court. After all the written evidence has been exchanged, the lawyers will set the case down for a court hearing. At the trial both parties give their testimony, and they can be cross examined (cross questioned) about their claims. Very few people go through trial without legal representation. There are many principles of law that determine the outcome of financial or child-related claims, and you are best served by having an experienced practitioner acting for you in your best interests.

How long does the divorce process take?

This varies, usually depending on the amount of agreement that the spouses are capable of, the reasonableness of the parties (and the lawyers) and the complexity of any issues that cannot be agreed. Uncontroversial divorces in the Cayman Islands, with no substantive monetary or other disputes between the parties can be fully resolved within a couple of months. On the other hand, the more contentious divorces, with complex or intractable issues, (usually concerning financial disputes or child custody or

relocation overseas issues), may take considerably longer. The most difficult or argumentative cases can even take a matter of years. It largely depends on the approach of the parties. A litigious and highly adversarial approach by one party may see the time required for finalization of a divorce considerably protracted.

How much does a divorce cost?

The cost of a divorce may vary widely, depending on whether the issues are resolved at an early stage (through negotiation or mediation), or whether they have to proceed to trial on the contentious aspects. Relevant factors determining the length of proceedings include the nature of the issues, and the approach of the parties and their attorneys. It is therefore very much in both parties interests to try to resolve disputes at an early stage by negotiation or mediation, since legal fees are usually based on the time taken to resolve the matter. The costs may escalate quickly when parties cannot agree and have to turn to the court to resolve the disputes.

Your lawyer should therefore make every effort to resolve matters amicably through negotiation or mediation if possible, having regard to the fact that the costs of divorce litigation can escalate quickly.

While it is always difficult to predict the overall costs of a divorce. Much depends on the response and approach of the other party. However, in discussing your case with your lawyer, they should be able to give you some general guidance as to the anticipated fees.

So, after we have agreed everything and the Judge has made the final rulings, when is it all finally over?

When the parties have agreed the division of the assets and all other ancillary matters, or when the Judge has delivered a judgment on any matters that weren’t agreed, the petitioner will apply for the certificate of dissolution. When this is back from the Court the parties are finally divorced.

Is there anything I can do to protect myself from an acrimonious divorce?

If you are thinking of getting married you should consider with your lawyer whether a pre-nuptial agreement might help safeguard your existing assets. Pre-nuptial agreements are recognised in the Cayman Islands if they satisfy certain crucial criteria. It is essential to obtain legal advice on any proposed pre-nuptial agreement as the conditions to be satisfied to make it enforceable are very precise.

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