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Fraudulent divorce cases surge: High Court

By Daniel Nemukuyu

The High Court has raised concern at the rate at which men are forging their wives’ identity documents to fraudulently obtain divorce orders and grab matrimonial property.

Judges in Zimbabwe
Judges in Zimbabwe

The Registrar of the High Court has since been directed to alert the Law Society of Zimbabwe on the prevalence of such cases and take preventive measures.

In most such cases, men engage female friends who pose as their spouses to obtain decrees of divorce and favourable sharing of property without their wives’ knowledge.

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The men use the “hired” women to file fake divorce proceedings, file consent papers and agree to a property sharing model which favours the husbands. Zimbabwean women in the Diaspora are mostly targeted.

Justice Garainesu Mawadze last week urged lawyers to be on the lookout for fraudsters in divorce cases. He made the remarks while setting aside a judgment in which a United Kingdom-based nurse Mrs Lucia Vela had been “divorced” and lost property as a result of fraud.

“In view of the apparent increase in the number of cases of fraud of this nature in divorce proceedings (I dealt recently with a chamber application for substituted service in which I recommended the investigation as applicant in that matter also claimed not to have instituted any divorce proceedings like in casu), I have directed the Registrar of the High Court to bring this judgment to the attention of the Law Society of Zimbabwe so that legal practitioners are alerted to prevalence of this obnoxious practice which threatens to erode confidence in our judicial system in unopposed divorce matters . . . ” said Justice Mawadze.

This was after Ms Vela’s lawyer Mr Cephas Mavhondo of Mhishi Legal Practice convinced the court that the judgment was fraudulent.

The judge said the practice was dangerous in the sense that judges can even be duped into believing that the parties before them are the correct ones and subsequently grant the orders sought.

“What leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is that the presiding judge acting attentively and with due diligence may not detect such fraud.

“It is precisely for this reason that I have decided to write this judgment in an unopposed matter so as to highlight this problem and possibly alert a number of legal practitioners who may fall prey to this type of devious conduct,” he said.

Mrs Vela married Mr Costa Magolis in 1998 in terms of the Marriages Act Chapter 5:11 and the union was blessed with three children. The woman relocated to the UK in 2001 and is staying there with her children.

Mr Magolis later followed his wife to the UK and they had marital problems that culminated in a separation in 2007. Ms Vela only returned to Zimbabwe in May this year where she discovered that she had been fraudulently divorced.

The records showed that she had been divorced in 2009 when she neither filed any divorce papers nor consented to any divorce proceedings.

Investigations by the woman’s lawyers revealed that Mr Magolis approached a lawyer, only identified as Mr Mapondera of Mapondera and Company, accompanied by a certain woman who posed as Ms Vela seeking legal representation in the divorce case.

They indicated that they were agreeable to divorce and the manner in which property would be shared.

The court granted the order.

In a related pending court case, Harare businessman Mr Rochford Munjoma allegedly engaged a woman who forged his wife’s signature and obtained a divorce order.

Mr Munjoma’s wife, at the time of the filing of the summons, was in a Chinese prison where she was serving a sentence. She only discovered the divorce when she returned to Zimbabwe this year and took the matter to court. The Herald