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Published: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 5:55:11 PM

Dear Thelma: My friend can't love again because she can't get a divorce

Dear Thelma,

M has been separated from her husband for over 10 years now. Their three children live with their father, but she keeps in touch with the children, bringing them out once in a while.

She lives alone and has a few friends. Life has always been dull and lonely, until recently when she met someone who might love and take care of her. But there is a problem – though separated from her husband, M has never gone through the proper process of divorce. She thought that after a few years of separation, they would be deemed divorced. And she thought there would be no one else to love.

After receiving advice from friends and close relatives, she realises she has to apply for a divorce legally. However, upon enquiring, she was told lawyers would charge her a ridiculous high fee, much more than what she would earn in a year. In other words, she can’t afford a lawyer.

For the past decade, M has been living in solitude and leading a dull existence. Now that she has met someone who cares for her, she can look forward to a brighter future. I feel helpless as I’m unable get her out of this rut. I’ve heard of Legal Aid, but I don’t know what the procedure entails.

A Friend

Dear Friend,

In a case such as your friend’s, it seems that there is possibly a mutual agreement to a divorce. What is necessary, however, is a proper legal document that would enable the National Registration Department to nullify the record of the marriage. This would be necessary if your friend decides to remarry.

Bear in mind, though that this is the case for non-Muslim Malaysians. It would be a whole different matter and jurisdiction for Muslim couples, and the advice of syariah lawyers would have to be sought for that.

Yes, legal fees can be expensive. But, not all lawyers have high fees. Also, fee structures differ based on the processes involved. The process in your friend’s case may be different and thus, the charges may be less.

Therefore, it is always best to actually meet with different lawyers and find out available options. Be clear with them that you are looking for information and trying to find something within your budget. Once you have sufficient information, you may be able to make a better decision what to do.

Aside from getting information on lawyers’ fees, she should find out from the professionals themselves the necessary process. The information you have is at best secondary. In order to know what’s really involved, a lawyer’s advice would have to be sought. So, either way, you need to consult a lawyer.

Legal Aid is provided by the Malaysian Bar Council. Each state has its own Legal Aid Centre (LAC). They will determine if someone is eligible to receive services. The LAC’s services are for the underprivileged, and they have their own criteria to establish what this means.

And, the LAC’s services may not be free. Your friend may be required to pay for disbursements. As such, the LAC in your state should be contacted to clarify these matters.

Obviously, this is going to take some time. So, you and your friend will have to be patient. When finding out information, she has to be meticulous in being clear about what she wants and needs to know. Do some research

before meeting with lawyers. Go online and do some background reading on Malaysian family law. Be familiar with terms that are commonly used. Do not be afraid to ask the lawyers questions if she is not clear about something.

Many people become intimidated and either shy away from asking questions or worse, they decide altogether that they want to do away with the legal process. This is just going to make things far more complicated for all parties involved and strongly advised against.

Just bear in mind that this process is necessary for other legal matters such as property or child custody. It would even have implications on who has a say on your friend’s body should she fall severely ill and important decisions about her health need to be made. As complicated and daunting as the process may seem, it is well worth the effort.

For clarifications of the process for Muslims, please contact Sisters In Islam (03-79608802). Their legal clinics are open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The contact details for the various LAC offices can be found at The Malaysian Bar website.

> Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Write to: Dear Thelma, c/o Star2 Features Central, Menara Star (Level 3A), 15 Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Or email star2.thelma@thestar.com.my. Include your full name, a pseudonym and an address. No private correspondence will be entertained.

Tags / Keywords: Thelma, legal, divorce

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