Recently when businessman Ivan Ssemwanga died, all eyes were on his ex wife and mother of his three sons Zari Hassan. Although the two had separated and Zari moved on to bear two children with her current man Diamond Platinumz, she was by Ssemwanga’s side at his death bed.
And at the funeral, she took her seat with her sons near the casket like a widow would do. The question on everybody’s lips however, was; is she assuming her place as the widow or had she gone further than where an ex should stop?
“I moved on, Ivan did not move on,” Zari told mourners at Namirembe Cathedral during the funeral last month. Where should the limits for an ex be when their former partner dies? How does a woman in another relationship play widow to another man? Would a man turn up at his ex-wife’s funeral and play widower when another woman warms his bed at night?
A section of the public argues that Zari exaggerated her reaction being that she is owing to the fact that she in a relationship with another man.
But her relationship with Ssemwanga seems never to have been nullified (at least in the public’s eyes).
“According to the law, if someone is customarily married, they are entitled to particular rights of property, unless they are divorced,” Blessing Owomugisha, a lawyer at KSMO Advocates, says. Besides under customary marriages, a partner is allowed to have more than one spouse, so “if Ssemwanga wanted to marry another wife he could. In fact even Zari could marry another man.”
However, she says Zari’s case with Platinumz is rather complex as it is uncertain if they are simply dating or married under Islamic marriage.
Therefore, Owomugisha argues that because Zari was not legally separated from Ssemwanga (considering customary marital law) then she is officially Ssemwanga’s widow and is entitled to particular rights of inheritance.
Properties and the children
According to the law, anything acquired in marriage is legally owned by the couple.
“It does not mean that one should have contributed financially to these properties. It could be emotional support, maybe one took the children to school while the other went to work. But as long as these are marital properties then an ex is entitled to them, even in cases of divorce,” Owomugisha asserts.
The only exception is if the deceased bought properties and registered them under their own names, then that would not be party to matrimonial property. In cases of divorce a divorcee is not entitled to the ex’s personal properties.
Therefore, Zari as an ex-wife is entitled to some of the property accumulated in the time she was married to Ssemwanga.
However, according to Owomugisha, “90 per cent of the property belongs to the children”. But others argue that sometimes people use children to squander their deceased spouse’s property.
Laura Kaigo, a blogger, says: “The law permits a child to be taken away from their mother at the age of seven. And Ssemwanga’s sons are older and two are teenagers. They can therefore live with anyone and not necessarily their mother.”
“In cases where the children are above seven years of age, the court will decide what is best for the children. The judge might call the children and ask them whom they prefer? Court would also consider the particular standard of life and the environment the children would be raised in,” argued the lawyer.
A will saves the day
In case any member of the family wishes to take custody of the children, they would have to prove capability of doing so.
“Otherwise wait for when the children turn 18 years, they are the only link to a deceased partner’s wealth, because only then would they have administrative rights over their parent’s wealth. Besides, there is no court that can take away custody from a parent who is willing and able to look after the children,” Owomugisha says.
Regardless of what family or the ex would say, “we protect the decisions of the deceased and their will stands above everything else. If they made the will months before they died, then it stands, unless the ex or the family argues that they were not in good mental state when they made the will.”
In the event that there is no will, Owomugisha says the children can apply for a letter of probate if they are 18 years and above. And relatives can apply for letters of administration requesting to administer these properties.
Their case is only made easier if the deceased left a will identifying a relative as the executor.
But what if the deceased ex-partner was broke? Would their ex-partner come back for burial?
Teddy T. Tumwebaze, a midwife, says she doubts whether anyone would show up at their poor ex’s funeral.
“They would probably have run away because of the poverty in the first place. If they do return they might just dump his children there for the relatives to look after them. Do poor people make wills anyway?” she asks.