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Understanding Legal Dynamics in Family Disputes

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Family disputes can be particularly tumultuous, especially when they involve inheritance issues. The reasons behind such conflicts are diverse and vary across families, societies, and nations. Moreover, such disputes are expected to impact on the social fabric and erode basic family values. Therefore, it is important that family law identifies legal-policy gaps and strives to address them.

This article critically analyzes legal-policy gaps and socio-economic dynamics causing inheritance-induced family disputes using a mixed research approach. It scrutinizes the perspectives of disputants involved in past family and property conflicts, as well as legal professionals dealing with those cases. The findings of this study demonstrate the ineffectiveness of statutory law and customary laws to address inheritance-induced disputes. They also highlight the prevalence of false eyewitness testimony and corruption in these cases, which exacerbate the conflict.

Inheritance-induced family disputes mainly involve the inheritance of valuable assets, such as land, family businesses, livestock, and homes. In addition, the escalation of these disputes is partly attributed to a decline in acquaintance and familial emotional ties. The rising tendency of families to prioritize their vested economic interests over the maintenance of interpersonal relationships is also a contributing factor. This trend is also aggravated by the increasing social admiration of corrupted judges, lawyers, and disputants who pay bribes to divert family decisions in their favor.

The analysis of this study indicates that despite the efforts of Ethiopian law makers to improve family and property laws, a substantial number of conflicts have persisted. This is mostly due to the conflict between statutory and customary inheritance laws. The 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code gave equal inheritance rights to all heirs regardless of gender or age, which clashed with customary inheritance practices and caused family feuds.

Furthermore, the legal system is overwhelmed by these conflicts and cannot adequately respond to them. This is a result of a shortage of court personnel, as well as a lack of financial resources to recruit additional staff and implement training programs. The limited availability of DNA tests in the country, and their impracticality abroad, limits the ability of courts to verify family ties. Consequently, it is common for disputants to falsify DNA test results and other eyewitness evidence in order to gain an advantage.

Lastly, the legal process can be emotionally draining on all parties, including family members. This can lead to tensions between family members and even strain their relationships, making it difficult to come up with a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute. In these situations, mediation is an option that may help the parties find a way out of the dispute without having to go to court. This option is usually cheaper than a trial, and it can help to reduce the stress of a legal case on the entire family. The use of mediation is not limited to cases involving property, but it can be used to resolve a number of other legal disputes as well.

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