Under cover: Every individual has a right to own property. When two get married and become one, the case becomes a little complicated. Although opinion is divided on the right to keep secret property, the law is clear and sometimes, the consequences can be serious.
There is a family that is battling in court to establish who is eligible to take charge of the property their mother left behind in the name of her youngest son. She willed him the property because he is the one who nursed her on her sickbed.
The deceased had property both in Uganda and abroad but her husband never got to know about it until her death and the will named her son who is in his late 20s as heir.
However, the family does not agree that he can run the businesses, especially those abroad so they want the property handed to a more capable person.
Stacey Muhumuza, an advocate, says sometimes owning property secretly may cause disorganisation in the family, especially when the individual dies without making a will that clearly specifies who is supposed to take charge of the property.
In spite of the underlying dangers of keeping property secrets from one’s partner, the practice seems to be growing, with many women and even some men believing that it is necessary to put some of their assets aside, without their partner’s knowledge.
My property, his property
“Who said married women cannot own property of their own? It is just right to have something in your own names because you do not know what tomorrow holds for you as a couple,” says Betty Aguti, an accountant.
She believes men are unpredictable and says even if you want to own combined property, you cannot guarantee that it will continue to belong to both of you or your children.
“Sometimes you get married to a man when he does not have other children or even when he has children, what belongs to their father is also theirs. In order to make sure that my children are on the safe side, I buy my own property in my names and will it to them so that in case of anything, they will have their own property,” she reasons.
She advises that if a woman is to own property in her name, she must make sure that when the couple contribute money to jointly acquire any asset, it is in the husband’s names so that when she buys her own, it is in her name and he will not complain.
She says she does not hide her property from her husband. He knows about all of them, where the documents are and does not complain because he also has his own.
In case of eventualities
Aguti adds that she needs an insurance policy in case she and her husband decide to go their separate ways.
“You realise nowadays there are many separations or divorces happening, not due to lack of love but there is a stage where a man loses interest in you and just treats you like an item he needs to take care of because it is his obligation,” she says.
“I never register properties in my children’s names because there is a lot that can change and I may need to use the property to do something such as get a loan or sell it off to get something done. In that case, I will not
need anyone’s authorisation to do that because the property is mine,” she says.
A female teacher at Victory Junior School in Kampala, who wished to remain anonymous, says she needs something to call her own but she can never tell her husband because the day he realises she has anything of value, then he may turn to her as his saviour every time he needs finances. At the end of it, he never pays back.
“I am part of many small female saving groups that he does not know about and I cannot risk telling him because he even has the mentality of planning for your money before you get it. He also monitors the progress by asking you how much you have saved whenever he knows you have deposited some money in the account,” she says.
My husband is a bulldozer
She says when you are a couple, it is hard to refuse to hand over money or property because the husband will claim to be using it for family development but the problem is at the end of it, men forget that both of you worked to get the money with which he bought the property.
Edith Namboozo (not real names), a housewife says her husband considers everything in the house as his own even if he is not the one who bought them because he thinks all the money she has is his.
“If I am to buy anything, I put it in my mother’s name so that there will be no room to start any trouble since he is good at that,” Namboozo adds.
“When couples get married, there are a lot of things that they agree upon so property ownership should not be an exception because this is one of the reasons why you find couples at loggerheads with each other,” says Ali Male, a counselling psychologist at YWCA.
He says there are very many factors that contribute to the decision made by an individual but this is clearly a sign of psychological insecurity, where the woman does not trust her husband and thinks something may go wrong in their marriage and she needs to play it safe.
He advises that it is prudent that information be shared between the couple. Couples should also ignore cultural norms that bar women from accessing information about spouses’ properties because if the woman gets to know (her husband is concealing something), then she will also acquire hers and keep it a secret.
“Couples should also be cautious about advice they receive because relationships are totally different. What works for one couple may not work for your marriage, so hiding property from your husband may not be necessary,” says Male.
He adds that when buying property, the two parties should be involved and the property ownership should be specified so that there is no confusion. However, in case the couple jointly contributed to the purchase, then the documents should have both their names so that there is no room for complaints.
“The best thing to do is to make your home a place of compassion, where everyone in the family including the children takes part in property decision making,” he says.
Rose Margaret Katengeke, a teacher and counsellor at The African Pearl Kabalagala, advises that trust should be built in marriage so as to avoid embarrassing situations that may destroy a marriage that has taken a lot of effort to build.
“Property can be co-owned because it not only benefits an individual but the family as a whole. Therefore, having joint ownership will save the couple the guilt of having to sneak around trying to monitor property,” says Katengeke.
She adds that it important for the woman to guard her family secrets because it is as a result of seeking advice from friends or family members that women end up getting the ideas of owning private property, a practice which kills trust in relationships, in case the other party gets to know about the partner’s private investments.
FROM THE PROPERTY CONSULTANT
According to Noel Etyang Okei, of Etyang Property Consultants, when someone seeks help in acquiring property, there are some details that the agents do not go into; details such as family attachments because that is someone’s private life but if one feels the need to disclose to the consultancy agents, they can listen.
“In case the reason the person wants his or her property to be kept secret is sensitive or even valid, then we can help but people rarely disclose such details because they fear that the agent may reconsider offering services but sometimes help could be offered,” says Etyang.
He further cites the law, saying the law does not condemn one who acquires property.
“We think everyone has a right to own property and this does not exclude women because women are now empowered and their ability to single handedly pay for any property is not in doubt.
However, in cases where another spouse comes in to claim the property, all we can do is to help the client crosscheck the authenticity of the documents then they can proceed to court. We cannot do much in the face of couple disagreements,” adds Etyang.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
Stacey Muhumuza, an advocate in Kampala, refers to Article 26 (1) of the Ugandan constitution which states every person has a right to own property either individually or in association with others which gives women the right to own their own property.
She says for a woman to own property privately, there should have been an aspect that has filled the partner with mistrust, also because they need security just in case the marriage breaks and may be the husband has also done it.
“However, with the recent court decision, if a couple is legally married and the property is acquired while in marriage, it does not matter in whose names the property is registered. It is considered a jointly owned property because the other person offered some support, it may not be monetary but in other ways,” says Muhumuza.
She adds that the only property that is considered to belong to an individual is one held by one part of a couple that is not legally married and one that was acquired before they entered a legal marriage.
Another legal opinion
According to Andrew Karamagi, a lawyer and activist, owning property secretly is not actionable in the courts of law unless the other partner is using it to support his argument for divorce cause.
“The question of why women would privately own property is largely forte of immorality and not so much the law because if the woman has the documents that show that the property is hers and she has not stolen from the man, then there is no case,” says Karamagi.
He further says that usually it is the men that prompt the women to own property secretly because of the distrust that they have exhibited in so far as property rights are concerned so the women fear for what may happen in future.
He advises couples to build their relationships based on trust and transparency instead of engaging themselves in legal battles concerning property and having to keep their property secret.