TOO MUCH TIME TOGETHER

For better or alone: Divorce cases on the rise since lockdown

Family lawyer Omari says he has recorded 13 new cases since curfew

In Summary

• In one case, a man sues his wife of 22 years after she parked everything and shifted to an unknown place without informing him.

• Before the coronavirus, Omari said, the law firm could file an average of five to six cases in a month.

Increased divorce cases
SPLIT: Increased divorce cases
Image: FILE

Most couples are having a hard time adjusting to being together all the time as the coronavirus precautionary measures force them to spend time indoors.

Divorce cases have been on the rise since the curfew was imposed by the state a few weeks ago. It was extended for a further 21 days by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Speaking to the Star, family lawyer Dunstan Omari said his firm had filed at least 13 divorce cases since the curfew was imposed.

Omari said most couples have never spent this long together without the option of going out.

“Domestic violence cases are going up too because of the situation we are in,” he said.

“Men want their conjugal rights every time and women are tired and not used to this.” 

Before the coronavirus, Omari said, the law firm could file an average of five to six cases in a month.

In one of the cases seen by the Star, a man has sued his wife of 22 years for throwing him out of their rented house.

The man, a former employee at a leading parastatal, said his wife started disrespecting him after he lost his job.

The father of two claimed his wife parked everything and shifted to an unknown place without informing him.

“Because of staying together, which they are not used to, the differences cannot be reconciled. Remember the environment does not allow for the church or friends and relatives to mediate due to the social distancing order and restriction of movement,” the lawyer said.

He has found cases of mistresses kept in high-end estates but they have failed to pay their house rent, maintenance and mortgages due to the financial crisis.

“So some of their belongings have been confiscated by the landlords. We are dealing with some of those cases at the Rent Tribunal and in some instances, we have entered into agreements with the landlords.”

The lawyer said he had also handled employment matters defending people who had been dismissed from their jobs.

He is among the team of lawyers who represented news anchors and reporters from a leading media house and got orders stopping their pay cuts.

 “As an advocate for the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association, I was actively involved in the Honourable Everlyne Olwande’s case. Every day we were at Embakasi police station sorting out those matters,” he added. The magistrate had been caught drinking outside during curfew hours. 

Criminal matters have been moved from the courts to the police stations, Omari said.

He is also representing people arrested for violating the curfew and being taken to forced quarantine. His team was able to stop those movements at the police stations.

“Under the Public Order Act, it does not envisage what government is doing today when it gets someone outside say, seven minutes past 7pm. There must be a nexus between your health condition and you being taken to quarantine,” he argued.

Omar noted there was an upsurge of people disposing of property, especially because of the state of the economy.

The law firm helps with such transactions for clients. For instance, a few people who had small plots of land upcountry have decided to move to the villages to exchange the parcels.

Coping with curfew

Omari said the curfew has been a blessing in disguise because he can now go home earlier than before.

“I used to meet my clients as late as 10pm but now I am home by 6.30pm. I think it has improved family values for some.”

The curfew has made him realise that you don’t need to work till midnight. He now would rather carry his laptop and work from home.

“I go to the supermarket and market; basically I am the one who brings everything back home,” he said.

Omari said even though expenditure has gone down because there is no socialising after work, the cost of keeping a home has gone up.

House managers cannot go on leave now and have to be compensated. Utility bills such as electricity, water and food have also gone up as everyone stays home all day.

“I used to travel every weekend to the village for projects but now I’m saved fuel costs which I channel to other expenses in the home,” Omari told the Star.

The law firm has put up some measures in line with government directives such as providing face masks for staff, sanitiser and a no-contact thermometer to check the temperatures of staff and clients visiting.

“That has made our staff confident they can come to work because the environment is safe.”

Omari dismissed claims by some lawyers that courts are closed, terming it a misinterpretation.

“The courts are busy, law firms are busy with clients. We have done several legal opinions and therefore for us its business as usual,” Omari said.

He argued that courts are not the halls but the judicial officers. “If you can access a judge or a magistrate sitting in Moyale and he gives you orders online, that is the court, not the physical building.

“Nothing has changed really. It’s only the dynamics that have changed and any law firm that will not change to the reality will not open,” he said.

However, he said he was optimistic that the economy will recover in due course but said life will never return to what it used to be before the coronavirus.

His main challenge working during this time is when he appeared in open court at least four times to argue a case while wearing a mask.

“I had to prepare overnight to talk with a mask on because I'm not a doctor. I had to prepare how to present my case and submit while wearing a mask and gloves,” Omari said. 

Adapt to change 

The lawyer said a successful person adapts to the situation they find themselves in.

“Human nature resists change but when there is no option, a person has the capacity to adapt.”

He said his firm has so far received several judgments via Skype, which shows that the courts are indeed working.

They received 45 judgments with four coming from the Court of Appeal.

After the first detection of the coronavirus in the country, courts scaled down. But Omari said it was not a shock for his law firm because they had to devise ways of practicing while still staying safe from infection.

“We had a staff meeting and we designed how to work within the pandemic. We let some staff go, especially the clerks, but we retained all the advocates because all the matters were being heard virtually,” he said.

Edited by R.Wamochie