ABSTRACT

Customary law has long been problematic for wives seeking access to marital property in Ghana. In both matrilineal and patrilineal family systems, marriage does not entail property. Self-acquired property therefore became family property on the death intestate of the owner, leaving the surviving spouse without an alienable interest in the property which they should rightfully own. Coupled with cultural bias, these laws have contributed to the economic chasm between males and females. From pre-independence times until the 1992 constitution, Ghanaian courts have determined disputes involving marital property largely under customary law, which as noted, is often disadvantageous to wives. What progress was made toward parity resulted from judges’ reliance on their own culturally shaped notions of fairness and standards of progressive thinking. The 1992 constitution has provided Ghana’s legal order with a new and significantly more just standard for the distribution of marital property. This chapter evaluates cases from pre- and post-1992 in search of both rhetorical and outcome trends. This analysis reveals that the rhetoric, while demonstrating strong leanings toward improving the lot of the wife, does not always match the outcome trends.