- Ellen Tawesa sued her ex-husband, Chimwemwe Tawesa, who sought a divorce upon completion of his higher education
- Ellen and Chimwemwe had stayed together for 20 years, a period within which her husband attained his degree and diploma
- The wife sought the judge's determination on whether or not academic degrees could be considered part of matrimonial property
A High Court in Malawi has delivered a ruling compelling a husband who attains high academic qualifications during marriage to compensate his wife for her contribution to the achievement.
The highly emotive matter was brought before the court for determination by a disgruntled housewife who parted ways with her husband upon his completion of tertiary education.
Before taking the matter to the High Court, Ellen Tewesa who sued her ex-husband Chimwemwe Twesa, had been awarded a compensation of KSh 43,366 (N153,121.06) payable in 10 equal installments by a lower court.
The court had further ordered her ex-husband to build her a house or remit KSh 21,683 (N76,560.53) in default.
Ellen was dissatisfied with the meagre compensation and decided to seek the intervention of the High Court.
Before her husband asked for a divorce, the two had stayed together for 20 years, a period within which her better half acquired his two degrees and move from being a primary school teacher to a lecturer.
In the High Court, Ellen sought the judge's determination on whether or not academic degrees could be considered part of matrimonial property and whether there was marital property in the educational qualifications of his husband.
She specifically wanted the court to determine whether the Bachelor’s degree and diploma her husband attained during their marriage could be distributed on a 50/50 basis.
In his ruling, Justice SA Kalembera held that the petitioner, Ellen, contributed financially or in kind to her husband's pursuance of his tertiary education.
The court noted as a wife, the petitioner cooked for her husband, took care of four children, and did some businesses to top up the family budget as the respondent continued with his education.
As such Justice Kalembera noted it would be unfair for the respondent to enjoy the benefit of his academic achievements alone when it was clear the petitioner had played a role.
"In the matter at hand, the Petitioner was a housewife and the Defendant was the bread winner for the family. The Petitioner contributed to the well-being of the family as a whole by among other things, cooking for the husband, the four children they were staying with, doing some businesses just to top up the family budget and so forth...
The husband upon completion of his tertiary education approached the court for a dissolution of his marriage to the Petitioner. Though this conduct of the Respondent might be considered unfortunate and ungrateful, it is not unusual," the court observed.
As a result, the court determined that the petitioner had a beneficial interest or equitable claim in her former husband’s educational qualifications as long as the marriage subsisted.
"Therefore, this court orders that the Respondent do compensates the Petitioner with a sum to be assessed by the Registrar within 30 days, for the latter’s contribution to the former’s educational qualifications," ruled Justice SA Kalembera.
The judge noted since the marriage had been terminated, Ellen would only be compensated for the loss she incurred in helping her husband to achieve his academic qualifications and she would not be entitled to any other benefit from the respondent's academic achievements upon receiving the compensation.
However, on the question of whether the academic certificates in question could be shared equitably between the wife and husband, the court ruled that it was impractical to physically determine the value of the certificates and further transfer part of knowledge acquired by the respondent to the petitioner.
"It would be diametrically impractical to demand the respondent to also impart the knowledge he acquired while at college to the petitioner, but also that the names in the certificates could be interchanged from Chimwemwe S. Tewesa to Ellen Tewesa,” ruled the court.
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