Quartson v. Quartson  2 SCGLR 1077
Christiana Quartson, the petitioner/appellant/appellant, hereinafter referred to as the appellant, petitioned for divorce on grounds that her husband, the respondent, is engaged in adultery and behaves unreasonably.
Among others, she requested that the respondent vacate their matrimonial home and that she be given ownership of it. She based her claim on the fact that she substantially contributed to the building of said property and is entitled to an interest in the property. She claimed that while her husband was away, he sent down money for the construction of the property while she supervised and purchased the building materials for the property and took care of their three children.
On the other hand, the respondent cross-petitioned, seeking, inter alia , that an order be directed to the petitioner to vacate the matrimonial house becasue it was put up solely from his sweat.
At the High Court, it was held that the contributions of the appellant were merely the customary duties of a wife and did not entitle her to a share of the property. In his words:
I will state that this house was acquired by respondent. It must be pointed out that the fact that a wife has served her husband dutifully, faithfully and responsibly during marriage does not by itself entitle her to a share in the property acquired by the husband. Conversely, the fact that a husband has performed satisfactorily the duties of a husband does not entitle him to a share in the property acquired by the wife during the marriage
The petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeal, where it was similarly held that
domestic services rendered, however important they may be, for now, cannot amount to a contribution by a spouse in a property acquired through the financial resources of the other spouse. I am of the view that if the courts are left on its own to quantify such domestic services without legislative guidance, the result will be judicial chaos in matrimonial suits.
The petitioner/appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.
Whether the satisfactory performance of wifely duties would entitle a wife to a share in property acquired during marriage, particularly the matrimonial home (in other words, whether the contributions of the appellant in this case amounted to substantial contributions and would entitle her to an interest in the property)
Arguments of the Respondent:
That it is the duty of parliament to enact legislation regulating the property rights of spouses. In the absence of such legislation, the judiciary should not decide such property rights, as this would amount to judicial lawmaking.
The extent of a wife’s contribution should be assessed in each case to determine if those contributions will entitle her to an interest in the property.
The court first noted that parliament has so far failed to adhere to the provision in article 22(2) of the 1992 Constitution to enact legislation on the sharing of matrimonial property. In the absence of such legislation, the courts have used the principle of substantial contribution as the litmus test for determining whether or not a case can be made for joint ownership of property.
Ansah JSC recounts that the principle of substantial contribution has been applied in several cases to entitle a spouse to a share in property acquired during marriage. His lordship recounted the application of the principle of substantial contribution in Yeboah v. Yeboah (1974) 2 GLR 114 and Gladys Mensah v. Stephen Mensah, Unreported Suit No: J4/20/2011 and concluded that:
It follows that where a spouse makes substantial financial contribution to the acquisition pursuant to an agreement or inferred intention by the couple that the property acquired should be owned jointly, the court will hold the property to be jointly owned.
In addition, his lordship expressed that the principle established in Quartey v. Martey & Anor. (1959) GLR 377, that the domestic acts of a wife do not entitle her to an interest in the property of her husband, cannot be allowed to stand. He noted:
…in this twenty-first century world. Times have changed and society has evolved since 1959. The world is waking up to the fact that women play an all important role in the development of society and this role cannot be whittled away by the inability or difficulty to quantify in financial terms their contribution in the creation of a healthy stable family environment.
Consequently, a spouse who substantially contributes to the construction or acquisition of property may acquire an interest in said property. However, he noted that what amounts to a substantial contribution is gleaned from the facts of each case. After recounting the contributions made by the appellant in the present case (see material facts), the court concluded that the appellant had substantially contributed to the acquisition of their matrimonial property and was consequently entitled to an interest in the property.
However, the court noted that the principle of equality is equity, as laid down in Gladys Mensah v. Stephen Mensah (supra) , which calls for an equal share of property jointly acquired during the course of the marriage, "may be waived if in the circumstances of a particular case, the equities of the case would demand otherwise," and concluded that "the equities of this particular case do not call for a half and half sharing of the marital home."
In direct response to the respondent’s argument that it is for the legislature to enact a law outlining the sharing of matrimonial property, his lordship stated:
it would defy common sense for this court to attempt to wait for Parliament to awaken from its slumber and pass a law regulating the sharing of joint property. As society evolves, a country’s democratic development and the realization of the rights of the citizenry cannot be stunted by the inaction of Parliament. We do not think that this court is usurping the role of Parliament, especially in cases where the inaction of Parliament results in the denial of justice and delay in the realization of constitutional rights.
1. Substantial contribution towards the acquisition of property entitles a spouse to an interest in the property.
2. The principle of equality is equity, as established in Gladys Mensah v. Stephen Mensah (supra), calls for an equal sharing of property jointly acquired during the marriage. However, in certain circumstances, the equities of the case may warrant a deviation from the equal sharing principle