Permanent residence delays affect divorce proceedings

Judge finds application delays ‘unsatisfactory’

Delays in processing permanent residence applications are affecting other Cayman Islands court matters, in addition to the two legal challenges filed last year, the Cayman Compass has learned.

According to court records, a recent family court proceeding involving a couple’s separation led the Grand Court judge hearing the case to deem the situation with the residence application delays “unsatisfactory.”

Family court proceedings in Cayman do not name the plaintiffs or defendants involved, and in this case the Cayman Compass has taken the additional step of not including any information that could directly lead to identification of the individuals or children involved. The matters related from Justice Richard Williams’s discussion of the case deal only with the immigration-related issues raised by the judge.

‘Regrettable current state of affairs’

“As a consequence of the regrettable current state of affairs in relation to the processing of permanent residency applications, this family and the court have been placed in a most unsatisfactory position,” Justice Williams wrote in a Feb. 7 judgment on an application for ancillary relief made by one of the parties in the case.

“When the parties made their joint application for permanent residency, if it had been processed efficiently by the authorities, they would have had more financial certainty as a decision would have been made about where this family may reside long-term,” the judge continued.

Home ownership issue

According to the court records, the division of the parties’ respective assets in the separation – which included a Cayman Islands home valued at between US$1.8 million and US$2 million – was in dispute.

Ownership of a home would be important to a non-Caymanian individual’s application for permanent residence, which is the right to remain in Cayman for the rest of one’s life. Residency applicants can receive up to 30 points on their applications for ownership of property, depending on how much has been invested relative to the person’s salary.

It was argued by the husband involved in the matter that a court order forcing him to give up ownership of the family home would significantly affect his chances of gaining residence, for which he applied in 2014, according to court records.

The wife involved in the case noted that she would likely be unable to afford the property herself, even with support payments from her estranged spouse, which meant her own application for residence would suffer.

The uncertainty of the residency application might also affect the couple’s children in that the court must determine what is best for the minors involved in such a case. If the residency application was not successful due to the loss of “points” from home ownership, the husband’s attorneys argued, he could lose his job, making him unable to support the children.

“Where there is such an inordinate delay in the processing of permanent residency applications there may well be, as there has been in this case, a change of circumstances for some families due to unfortunate marital breakdown during the interim period,” Justice Williams wrote. “This means the court is left in a difficult position when exercising its jurisdiction … and endeavoring to put the interests of the children first.

“It would be highly inappropriate for the court to simply delay making a decision until the outcome of the residency application,” the judge’s ruling continued. “The delay of processing of the joint permanent residency application, and now of the separate applications [since the couple’s separation], means that this deficient part of the immigration process is hindering this court’s ability to make informed decision about this family’s circumstances and to carry out its duty to support this and possibly other families within the Cayman Islands who seek assistance within the family law justice system.”

Justice Williams did render a decision with regard to the division of assets.

Court challenges

Two high-profile court challenges to years-long delays in processing permanent residence applications are still pending before the courts. Neither seems likely to be decided before the May 24 general election.

Financial services company trust manager Mark Edmunds’s permanent residence application was filed in June 2014 and has never been heard. Accountant Brad Carpenter’s permanent residence application was filed in October 2013 and was approved shortly before his matter was due to proceed to court. However, a judge ruled that Mr. Carpenter’s claims of damages due to the three-year delay in hearing his case should still be considered by the court.

Mr. Edmunds is among more than 900 residents awaiting the outcome of government’s ruling on their residence applications.

Cabinet recently amended the points system used to award permanent residence, but neither the Caymanian Status and Permanent Residency Board nor the Immigration Department had resumed hearing those cases as of Tuesday.

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