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Confessions: My husband died before building a house for me, how do I approach my co-wife?

Girl Talk - By Hilda Boke Mahare | November 9th 2020 at 08:30:00 GMT +0300
I don’t know how to bring up the land issue since it is the only asset I have in my name (Photo: Shutterstock)

I am a mother of one. My husband died in February 2014 leaving his first family - a wife and two daughters - and myself as the second wife with a son. We are both customarily married. We had collectively bought land where he put up a house. To safeguard my money, the land is in my name but he put up a house for the other family. They don’t know this land is under my name and he died before building a house for me. My business has since gone down and I cannot make enough cash to sustain my son and I. I really need a place to live without paying rent, but I don’t know how to bring up the land issue since it is the only asset I have in my name. Please advise me.


What the readers say:

Rosemary, things are not clear here. You do not have a house in the land that bears your name? The other family has a house on the same piece? If the land has your name but you don’t have a house on the same while the other family has, then there is a serious challenge. Traditionally you ought to have a house constructed for you on the same land. If this is the case, then follow the husband’s traditions to have a house. But as things stand, you may not easily use the land in issues like selling, you will face rejection from the entire village. If the land is separate from where the other family has a structure currently, then it is yours and you can do any development on the said land. I mean if the land is far away and separate then it all belongs to you. Traditionally, your son has full rights to construct a house on the same piece; laws of succession. Or better still engage the lands registrar office and a lawyer to help clear up everything for both families.

Stephen Ragumo

Rosemary, my condolences to you and your co-wife for the passing of your husband. Customary marriage is not governed by written rules, therefore, it presents unique challenges regarding the distribution of property especially land - an emotive piece of real asset. Your particular instance presents tough practical issues: If the land was bought collectively and you contributed money respectively, why is it that ownership was registered only in your name? Assuming your contribution was highest and needed special protection, how was the co-wife's smaller interest protected? Be that as it may, but you need to handle the matter thoughtfully and compassionately. First, set up a meeting with your co-wife and reveal the truth that you own the land. If possible, show evidence that you provided the money and express the desire to construct a house too. Second, identify a surveyor for purposes of sub-division. Third, apply for Consent of the County Land Control Board. Fourth, after obtaining the Letter of Consent, apply for separate Title Deeds. Agree how to share costs of this process especially Stamp Duty to Kenya Revenue Authority which could be expensive depending on the locality and value of the land. At the end of this process, you will both be in a win-win situation. However, in case of hostility convince her otherwise. Because you hold Title, the alternative solution could be selling the land. That would be cruel and should not be considered; it would render your co-wife and daughters homeless.

Andrew N Wasike

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I empathise with your situation, Rosemary. The best thing for you to do is to approach the elders of the family, explain your views regarding the land issue and the joint ownership clearly to them. Together with the elders, you can talk to your co-wife to have a peaceful conflict resolution that will unite the two families. Involve relevant authorities in case of pact signing and other binding treaties. I wish you all the best, let not fear engulf your thoughts as nothing is impossible under the sun.

Makari Elly, Bokoli

With your name on the plot, it is legally yours. However, you will have to sweat to prove that the other house was put on the land without your consent. The best way to go about it is to have a neutral party to mediate the discussion between you and your co-wife, probably a pastor or a priest, and have the land peacefully sub -divided between the two of you. If this cannot work for you then prepare to either forget the land or go through a court process which will cost you more money than what you need to buy more land.

Tasma Saka

You are your own problem. You are the second wife, the land is registered in your name. Look for a cousin or brother to your husband and tell him the business your late husband left is not able to sustain you and your children and the rent you are paying in a rental housing could be used to sustain others. If they do not support you, approach the chief but do not produce the title deed as this may raise issues. If this fails, look for legal address through a Public Trustee or lawyer and your issue shall be sorted out.

Onyango Outha

Boke says:

Dear Rosemary,

These are some of the challenges that polygamous setting present. Sharing of property is such a delicate matter especially if this was not done before your husband departed. Even much more if there is secrecy as far as the how and the who acquired the property.

There are options you could explore. One, you could settle the matter peacefully and the second one may hurt some parties. I hope when you say collectively it means the three of you and not just you and your husband. Your first option entirely depends on the goodwill you have with your co-wife, not just now but ever since you joined this family. Such that she will believe you, empathise and understand your present predicament.

Again depending on the relationship between the two of you, you could personally initiate this discussion with her. However, getting a mutually trusted individual would help a great deal. Good for you that you were in a legally recognised union, hopefully this will simplify matters. This being Africa, the traditions of the people you belong to is likely to work in your favour specifically when it comes to having a home.

Nevertheless, I would not like you to be ignorant of the inherent rivalry that exists between many co-wives. So that you expect your plea to be easily responded to. But I would still encourage you to start from this note.

Incase your first option does not work then you have no choice but to seek legal redress. In this case a lawyer will guide you appropriately.

Remember this is not just about solving your present situation it is much more for your son and your step-daughters. This is the perspective both of you must not lose in all this process.

Hilda Boke Mahare has a background in Counselling Psychology

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