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Co-ownership of spousal property: The only way to enjoy property rights in a marriage
Legal Resources Foundation (LRF)
August 30, 2011

Property law in Zimbabwe protects the registered title-holder but does not protect the spouse whose name does not appear on the ownership papers. Judging from the cases which the Legal Resources Foundation [an organization which provides legal assistance to the disadvantaged members of the society] deals with, it is clear that unregistered titleholders in marriages, especially women, run a high risk of losing out on properties which they would have worked hard to obtain.

It is unfortunate that many women are not aware that the person whose name appears on the title deeds is the only one who has a say over that property, even though they are in a registered marriage. The contract of marriage by its nature creates rights and obligations between the spouses to that marriage. One of the fundamental rights that flow from the marriage contract is the right to shelter and use of the matrimonial assets.

The fact that the law prefers individual property rights to matrimonial rights disadvantages the unregistered title holder, who is left without legal protection in the event of the registered holder disposing of the matrimonial assets without the other spouse's consent.

It is interesting to note that at the time of dissolution of the marriage the law comes in with the Matrimonial Causes Act [a law that contains guidelines to be followed by the courts when they dissolve marriages, grant custody and access to parties as well as share property between the parties to the divorce] to protect the interests of both spouses.

Under this law the court can stop a sale of matrimonial property which is carried out in anticipation of divorce. This is done to protect the unregistered title-holder. The fact that the spouse whose name is not on the title deed has not made any financial contribution to acquire the property in question is not considered.

If the law can protect spouses in this manner pending divorce there is more reason for it to do the same during the subsistence of the marriage. As part of its efforts to address this injustice, the organization is working on a document to persuade Parliament to pass a law which makes it compulsory for matrimonial property to be co-registered.

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