In March 2013, I led a delegation of U.S. lawyers and guests to visit Cuba as part of a professional research delegation. Only 90 miles from the United States, it seems incredibly distant in many respects. The legal structure and the real-world struggles of the Cuban people are what brought us to this Caribbean island.
As part of the international exchange, our delegation undertook a comprehensive study of the Cuban legal system — from the teaching of law to the judicial system to the civil and family codes, and, of course, relations between our two countries. We found that the Cuban legal system has many similarities to that of the United States, but we did learn some facts that may surprise you.
- The Family Code, implemented in 1975, covers marriage, divorce, marital property relationships, recognition of children, obligations for children’s care and education, adoption, and tutelage. The substantive and procedural laws of Cuba were based on Spanish civil law and were influenced by the principles of Marxism-Leninism after that philosophy became the guiding force of government.
- In family disputes, Cubans try to resolve their differences through informal mediation. Divorces are easy to obtain and the country utilizes a no-fault approach. With regard to custody, the mother is favored, the children’s preferences are considered, and the father may present evidence that he would be the best custodial parent.
- The Cubans we met with pointed out that since guns are prohibited in Cuba, there are no shootings of judges and lawyers, which are unfortunately all too frequent in the U.S.
- The Cuban government now permits the limited sale of houses, with the understanding that real property remains in ownership with the State.
- Restrictions have also been eased on private enterprises. For example, it is now easier for Cubans to own small restaurants and small private-market ventures are encouraged as some Cubans are being taken off the government payroll.
- Two-thirds of law and medical students are female. A male law professor told us that females are generally more focused.
Overall, the Cuban people feel that they have a very sensible court system that is not bogged down with procedures or roadblocks to a resolution. The new generation of Cubans is focused on the future, and strongly desires opening up political and personal relations with the U.S.
This spring, Kathleen Hopkins, chair-elect of The Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, along with the American Bar Foundation, is leading a program to Cuba from May 25–30, 2014. This delegation will study the Cuban legal system, including the teaching of law, the criminal justice and judicial systems, civil and family code, business and commercial rights, and resolving domestic and international commercial conflicts. If you have questions about the delegation, contact Professionals Abroad at 1-877-298-9677. For additional program details or to enroll, visit www.professionalsabroad.org.