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Gender and Land Rights Database

Liberia

Women's property and use rights in personal laws

 

Civil law regime

 

The Domestic Relations Law of 1973

- Sub. § 3.3. Spouses may convey to each other or partition their jointly held property.

Spouses may convey or transfer real or personal property directly, the one to the other, without the intervention of a third person; and may make partition or division of any real property held by them as tenants in common, joint tenants or tenants by the entireties provided that in the case of tenants by the entireties partition may only be maintained when both parties consent thereto.

- Sub. § 3.4. Property and rights therein of married women.

1. Not subject to control by husband. Property, real and personal not owned by a married woman, or hereafter owned by a woman at the time of her marriage, or acquired by her as prescribed in this Chapter, and the rents, issues, proceeds and profits thereof, shall continue to be her sole and separate property as if she were married and shall not be subject to her husband’s control or disposal nor liable for his debt.

2. Powers as though unmarried. A married woman has the right in respect to property, real or personal, and the acquisition, enjoyment and disposition thereof, and to make contracts in respect thereto with any person, including her husband, and to carry on a business, trade or occupation, and to exercise all powers and enjoy all rights in respect thereto and in respect to her contracts, and be liable on such contracts, as if she were unmarried.

- Sub. § 3.5. Right of action by or against married women; and by wife or husband against the other, for torts.

1. In general. Subject to the provision of section 5.14 of the Civil Procedure Law, a married woman has a right of action for an injury to her person, property, or character, or for an injury arising out of the marital relation, if unmarried. […]

- Sub. § 4.1. Husband and wife joint natural guardians; father paramount upon separation.

A married woman is a joint natural guardian with her husband of the minor children of their marriage while they are living together and maintain one household. Each such parent shall be equally charged with their care, nurture, welfare and education. When such parents are living in a state of separation, the father shall be the custodian of the minor children of the marriage as against the claim of any person whomsoever;

- Sub. § 8.7. Property rights awarded to successful wife.

When a wife as plaintiff prevails in an action to obtain divorce, the court in the final judgement shall award her not less than one-fifth or more than one-third of the defendant husband’s personal property outright and not less than one-fifth nor more than one-third of his property for life. Upon the wife’s death, so much of the real property so awarded her shall descend to her children begotten by the defendant 

Persisting loopholes and challenges

These laws show important gaps which make them difficult to apply. In particular, they fail to define and provide for marital property regimes. Joint property remains a major challenge as the Domestic Relations Act does not give any indication as to how joint property arises and is managed within marriage. These gaps in the legislation prevent the systematic documentation of land rights. (7)

 

Customary law regime

 

The Decedents Estates Law, 1973

§ 2.1. Equal Right to be Accorded Customary Wife.

All customary marriages shall be legal within this Republic, and the rights, duties and liabilities of the statutory wife shall likewise be accorded to all customary wives, consistent with and pursuant to the provisions contained in the Act Adopting A New Domestic Relations Law, known as title 9 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, 1973, and which is hereby fully incorporated, as if quoted verbatim herein.

§ 2.6. Wife's Property Exclusively Her Own.

(a) The property acquired or owned by a customary woman either before or during marriage, belongs to her exclusive of her husband and she is therefore free to do any lawful business in her own name, including the right to contract with third parties but to the full knowledge and consent of her husband.

(b) Any customary husband who shall control, or attempts to control his wife's property, or prevents her from operating her lawful business, has committed a felony of the second degree (Theft of Property), and upon conviction in a court of competent jurisdiction, shall be fined the amount of not less than LD$200.00 nor more than LD500.00, including restitution of property of the wife converted to his personal 

The Equal Rights of the Customary Marriage Law of 1998

- Brought formal recognition of customary marriages and extended the same property rights protections (with some major exceptions) of spouses married under civil law to spouses married under customary law (7).

- Section 1(a): “Customary marriage” means marriage between a man and woman performed according to the tribal tradition of their locality;

- Section 2.1: Equal Right to be Accorded Customary Wife

All customary marriages shall be legal within this Republic, and the rights, duties and liabilities of the statutory wife shall likewise be accorded to all customary wives, consistent with and pursuant to the provisions contained in the Act Adopting a New Domestic Relations Law, known as Title 9 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, 1973, and which is hereby fully incorporated, as if quoted verbatim herein.

- Section 2.6: Wife’s Property Exclusively Her Own

a) The property acquired or owned by a customary woman, either before or during marriage, belongs to her exclusive of her husband and she is therefore free to do any lawful business in her own name, including the right to contract with third parties but to the full knowledge and consent of her husband.

b) Any customary husband who shall control, or attempts to control his wife’s property, or prevents her from operating her lawful business has committed a felony of the second degree (theft of property), and upon conviction in a court of competent jurisdiction, shall be fined the amount of not less than L$200.00, nor more than L$500.00 including restitution of property of the wife converted to his personal use.

- Section 2.10: Unlawful for Parents to Choose Daughter’s Husband

a) Every customary female of legal age shall have the unrestricted right to marry the man of her choice. It shall be unlawful for any tribal parent to choose a husband for his/her daughter, or compel the daughter or other female relative to marry a man not her choice.

 

Consensual unions

Liberia does not recognise the rights of couples living in consensual unions. As a result, unmarried women are left with little protection of their property rights, because property is usually titled in the man’s name regardless of whether or not his partner contributed to the purchase.  (7)

 

Citizenship

The Constitution, 1986

- Article 28:

Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the Person's birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or 

The Aliens and Nationality Law, 1973

§ 20.1. Citizens of Liberia at birth.

The following shall be citizens of Liberia at birth:

(a) A person who is a Negro, or of Negro descent, born in Liberia and subject to the jurisdiction thereof;

(b) A person born outside Liberia whose father (i) was born a citizen of Liberia; (ii) was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the birth of such child, and (iii) had resided in Liberia prior to the birth of such child.

A child who is a Liberia citizen by virtue of the provisions of subparagraph (b) of this section shall lose his citizenship unless he has resided in Liberia before attaining his majority or unless when he attains his majority and before attaining the age of 23 he goes before a Liberian consul and takes the oath of allegiance to the Republic of Liberia required of a petitioner for naturalization.

 

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography