Divorce and the forfeiture of your assets
The case of JW v SW 2011 (1) SA 545 (GNP).
In a divorce action the plaintiff (Wife) claimed forfeiture of the defendant’s (Husband) patrimonial benefits of their marriage in community of property in terms of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979, s 9(1). The defendant counter-claimed for an order, in terms of s 7(8) (a) of the Act, that he was entitled to a share in plaintiff’s pension-fund benefits. When the parties entered into the marriage, the defendant brought immovable property into the estate with improvements, in the form of a house. The wife brought no assets into the marriage, but effected renovations to the property in respect of which she alleged the husband made no contributions. The wife had been in continuous employment for 25 years and had built up a pension interest, whereas the husband, due to his erratic employment history, had built no such interest.
The Court found, that, before the issue of whether a benefit was undue arose, it first had to be established that the party, against whom an order of forfeiture was sought, would in fact benefit if the order were not made. Only if the nature and ambit of the benefit were proved, could the court decide whether it was undue or not.
The Court found, further, that a party could only benefit from an asset brought into the estate by the other party, not from his own — a fortiori, such a party could not be ordered to forfeit her/his own asset. The wife only proved the value of the house when the divorce proceedings were instituted, but not what the house was worth when the parties entered into the marriage. The wife had therefore not proved the extent of the husband’s benefit on the dissolution of the marriage.
The Court found, further, that s 7(8) (a) of the Act conferred a discretion on the court in considering an order in terms thereof. Such discretion had to be exercised judiciously, taking into consideration all relevant factors, including fairness. It was fair and just, in the circumstances of the case, that no order be made in terms of s 7(8) (a) of the Act.
The wife’s claims for forfeiture of the benefits arising from the marriage, and the husband’s counter-claim for an order in terms of s 7(8) (a) of the Act, were both dismissed.
About the author – Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Bertus Preller & Associates Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.