Divorce Attorney Cape Town

When billionaires divorce


When dealing with high net worth and multimillionaires divorce matters a divorce attorney must make sure to employ the best possible experts as part of the legal team, this is especially so if the assets at stake run into millions. I was involved as the divorce attorney of a client in a recent matter where two British citizens divorced in South Africa with assets across the globe that ran into millions of rands. In matters such as these various expert witnesses may be employed to lead evidence on behalf of a party to the divorce proceedings, consisting of forensic auditors, valuers, art experts, industrial psychologists, child psychologists, immigration experts etc.

In this matter I was fortunate to work with one of Britton’s top leading Family Law Barristers Richard Todd QC who rendered an opinion on the division of the matrimonial assets in this divorce case as far as it relates to UK law. Richard is an Oxford scholar who won the Hugh Bellott Prize (Highest Placed in the Oxford University Public International Law Finals) and who obtained the highest awards available to a practising Silk: The Chambers & Partners “Family Law Silk of the Year “ and The Lawyer’s “Hottest Family Law QC”. Richard have given expert evidence of English law to the courts of Australia, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Cyprus, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the USA and appeared in over 4000 matrimonial cases with a long list of report cases, needless to say the identity of former clients is confidential. However former clients include twelve Billionaires (Sterling) and two Oscar winning actors (plus another three who have been nominated).

In this matter the parties were married in England and subsequently immigrated to South Africa. In such a case the matrimonial property regime of England would apply to their marriage and English law would always apply to their marriage. In a case such as this and where the divorce is contested a South African court could divorce them but, the court would have to apply English Law. It is interesting to note that if a South African couple is on holiday in England and decides to get married, they would automatically marry in community of property and not according to English law.

The test is the husband’s domicile as at the date of the marriage, i.e. what country the husband considered to be his permanent home plus his mental intention to remain there indefinitely. Domicile is defined as the principal place of residence of an individual. This is determined primarily by intent.

Thus, if the husband regarded his place of domicile to be Cape Town at the time of the marriage, the parties would be married according to the laws of South Africa and not England and their type of marriage (matrimonial property regime) would be one in community of property. For the marriage to have been out of community of property, the parties would have had to enter into an antenuptial contract in South Africa before leaving for holiday. If they failed to do so, they would have to apply to court to register an antenuptial contract, postnuptially.

About the author:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times and magazines such as Noseweek, You and Huisgenoot, and also appeared on SABC television on the 3 Talk TV show. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high networth individuals. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Email: bertus(@)divorceattorney.co.za

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International abduction of minor children a South African Law Perspective


International abduction of minors a South African Perspective

Article 3(b) of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980), which is incorporated into South African law by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Act 72 of 1996 (the Act), provides that the removal or retention of a child is to be considered wrongful if, among others, at the time of the removal or retention, the rights of custody were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

In terms of article 13(b), the authority of the requested state is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body in the other state that opposes the return or retention establishes that there is a grave risk that his return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation. In Central Authority of the Republic of South Africa and Another v LG 2011 (2) SA 386 (GNP) the second applicant, the father, and the respondent, the mother, were married and living together with their minor child in the United Kingdom (UK). After several heated arguments the parties agreed to divorce and that the respondent would return to her native South Africa with the child. Alleging that the respondent agreed to return with the minor child to the UK after attending a wedding in South Africa and as she failed to do so she had unlawfully retained the child in this country, the second applicant (with the help of the first applicant, the Central Authority of South Africa) applied for a court order for the return of the child to the UK. The application was dismissed with costs.

Molopa-Sethosa J said the fact that the second applicant was prepared to stay away from the minor child, who was only 17-months-old at the time, for at least six months when the child was in South Africa with the respondent (who was during that time considering whether reconciliation with the second applicant was possible) was not indicative of a close bond between the second applicant and the child. Furthermore, the child would be exposed to the risk of psychological harm if he were to be returned to the second applicant who did not have the best interests of the child at heart. The fact that since the child had been in South Africa his health improved tremendously was of the utmost importance and could not be ignored.

Best interests and views of a child in international abduction matters:

In Central Authority v MR (LS Intervening) 2011 (2) SA 428 (GNP) the court dealt with the best interests of a minor child and her views in an international child abduction matter. After the death of her mother the minor child of some nine years lived with her biological father in Belgium. Subsequently the two relocated to Los Angeles, in the United States of America (USA), because of the father’s professional commitments.

There the two lived with the father’s new wife. After the child visited her maternal grandmother in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, the grandmother prevented the minor child returning to the father in Los Angeles and instituted an ex parte application to keep the child in this country. She sought, pending the final outcome of the family advocate’s investigation, full parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the minor. Meanwhile, the father sought the return of the child to the USA. The court dismissed the father’s application, but ordered the grandmother to pay costs because of the unacceptable way she instituted ex parte proceedings and for not being candid with the court.

Grounds for Divorce in South Africa


GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Dissolution of marriage and grounds of divorce

A marriage may be dissolved by a court by a decree of divorce and the only grounds on which such a decree may be granted in terms of the South African Divorce Act are

  • the irretrievable break-down of the marriage as contemplated in section 4;
  • the mental illness or the continuous unconsciousness, as contemplated in section 5, of a party to the marriage.

Irretrievable break-down of marriage as ground of divorce

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the irretrievable break-down of a marriage if it is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties to the marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Section 4 (2) of the Divorce Act lays down three circumstances which a Court may accept as evidence of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage and these are that:-

  • the parties have not lived together as husband and wife for a continuous period of at least one year immediately prior to the date of the institution of the divorce action.
  • the Defendant has committed adultery and that the Plaintiff finds it irreconcilable with a continued marriage relationship
  • the Defendant has in terms of a sentence of a Court been declared a habitual criminal and is undergoing imprisonment as a result of such sentence.

This does not mean however that:- the man and wife have to live in separate buildings but in the past our Courts have been unwilling to (even on a undisputed basis), hear the case if the parties are still living in the same house on the date of the application. There must be a reasonable explanation, but even then some judges have refused to grant a decree of divorce.

If the Plaintiff is a party to an adulterous relationship it may be proof of a real break-down of the marriage. If irretrievable breakdown has been proved, the court still has discretion to refuse the divorce.

In terms of section 4(3) of the Divorce Act the Court still has discretion not to grant a divorce order but postpone the proceedings sine die or even dismiss the claim if it appears to the Court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection. The Summons also usually contains the averment that further marriage counselling and/or treatment will not lead to any reconciliation. This evidence must also be tendered to the Court even on an unopposed basis.

The Court must therefore be satisfied that the marriage has really irretrievably broken down and that there is no possibility of the continuation of a normal marriage, before a final divorce order will be granted.

The court may postpone the proceedings in order that the parties may attempt reconciliation if it appears to the court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection.

Where the parties live together again after the issue of Summons, it does not necessarily end the underlying cause of the action. If the reconciliation after a few months is seemingly unsuccessful, they can proceed on the same Summons.  Where a divorce action which is not defended is postponed in order to afford the parties an opportunity to attempt reconciliation, the court may direct that the action be tried de novo, on the date of resumption thereof, by any other magistrate/ judge of the court concerned in terms of section 4(4) of the Divorce Act.

A customary marriage may be dissolved only on account of an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage and only if the High, Family or Divorce Court is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Mental illness or continuous unconsciousness as grounds of divorce:

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the mental illness of the defendant if it is satisfied that the defendant, in terms of the Mental

Health Act 18 of 1973; has been admitted as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order; is being detained as a State patient at an institution or other place specified by the Minister of Correctional Services; or is being detained as a mentally ill convicted prisoner at an institution.

A divorce order may also be granted if such defendant has also for a continuous period of at least two years immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action, not been discharged unconditionally as such a patient,

State patient or mentally ill prisoner; and the court has heard evidence of at least two psychiatrists, of whom one shall have been appointed by the court, that the defendant is mentally ill and that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground that the defendant is by reason of a physical disorder in a state of continuous unconsciousness, if it is satisfied that the defendant’s unconsciousness has lasted for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action; and after having heard the evidence of at least two medical practitioners, of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neurosurgeon appointed by the court, that there is no reasonable prospect that the defendant will regain consciousness.

The court may appoint a legal practitioner to represent the defendant at proceedings under this section and order the plaintiff to pay the costs of such representation.

The court may make any order it may deem fit with regard to the furnishing of security by the plaintiff in respect of any patrimonial benefits to which the defendant may be entitled by reason of the dissolution of the marriage.

For the purposes of this section the expressions ‘institution’, ‘mental illness’, ‘patient’, ‘State patient’ and ‘reception order’ shall bear the meaning assigned to them in the Mental Health Act, 1973.

The circumstances under which a court may grant a divorce order on the basis of mental illness or continuous unconsciousness is as follows:-

  •  In the case of mental illness the Defendant must have been admitted, in terms of the Mental Health Act, 1973 (Act No 18 of 1973), as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order, for a period of at least two years and in any case two psychiatrists (one appointed by the Court) must satisfy the Court that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.
  • In the case of unconsciousness the Court will only grant the order if the Defendant was unconscious for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the action and also after hearing the evidence of two medical practitioners of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neuro-surgeon appointed by the Court who must declare that there is no reasonable prospect that the Defendant will regain consciousness.

In such cases a curator ad litem must be appointed to protect the interests of the Defendant (patient) and to assist the Court.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Grounds for Divorce in South Africa


Dissolution of a civil marriage by divorce in South Africa

Three grounds for divorce were introduced by the Divorce Act:

  1.  irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (section 4);
  2. mental illness of a party to the marriage (section 5);
  3. continuous unconsciousness of a party to the marriage (section 3).

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage

Section 4(1) – court may only grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage if it is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties to the marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.  There are thus 2 requirements:

(a)   marriage relationship must no longer be normal;

(b)   there must be no prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between the spouses.

The legal definition of “normal marital relationship” should be sought in the concept of consortium omnis vitae.  When either spouse or both of them behave in such a way that the consortium omnis vitae is terminated or seriously disrupted, it can be said that a normal marriage relationship no longer exists between the spouses.

Schwartz v Schwartz:  in determining whether a marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between the parties it is important to have regard to what has happened in the past, that is, history of the relationship up to the date of trial, and also to the present attitude of the parties to the marriage relationship as revealed by the evidence at the trial.

Swart v Swart:  a marriage has broken down if one spouse no longer wishes to continue with the marriage.  The formation of an intention to sue for divorce is the subjective element in the method of determining marriage breakdown.  However, in order to assess the probability of a successful reconciliation being effected, the court also has to consider the reasons that prompted the plaintiff to sue for divorce, and the parties’ conduct.  Only when the court has determined that there is no reasonable prospect of reconciliation, will it find that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and grant a decree of divorce.  The court looks at the objective scantiness and surmountability of the reasons why a divorce was applied for to ascertain whether the marriage in question can still be saved.

Coetzee v Coetzee:  in order to succeed in a divorce action based on irretrievable breakdown, the plaintiff must prove that there has been a change in the pattern of the marriage from which breakdown can be deduced.  The inherent problem in this conception is that a divorce cannot be obtained in a marriage which was unhappy from the start and remained unhappy throughout.

Guidelines for irretrievable breakdown of marriage (section 4(2))

The guidelines are merely examples of instances where the probability is high that a normal marriage relationship no longer exists and that there is no reasonable prospect for the restoration of a normal marriage relationship.  However, these guidelines are neither exhaustive nor conclusive.

(1)   parties have not lived together as husband and wife for a continuous period of at least one year immediately prior to the date of the institution of the divorce action

Since the legislator requires an unbroken period of at least one year, it is clear that if the period was interrupted by periods of resumed cohabitation, the plaintiff would have to present more evidence to the court than the mere fact that they have lived apart for a year.

The consortium between the spouses must have been terminated. Even if the spouses have continued living together under the same roof there is no reason why the plaintiff cannot show that the consortium between them has been terminated.

If the plaintiff wishes to rely only on the spouses having lived apart for a year without adducing any further evidence in support of the divorce action, he or she would have to produce proof that the full period of a year has elapsed.  If the spouses still share the same dwelling, the plaintiff would have to prove the particular point in time at which the consortium came to an end.

(2)   The defendant has committed adultery and the plaintiff finds it irreconcilable with a continued marriage relationship

The test to determine whether the plaintiff considers the defendant’s adultery irreconcilable with the continuation of the marriage is clearly subjective.  If the plaintiff alleges that he or she cannot continue with the marriage, there is no way in which this allegation can be refuted.  There is support for the contention that it is not necessary to convince the court on a balance of probabilities that adultery was committed.  The plaintiff should however place some evidence of the adultery before the court.  A mere allegation that the defendant committed adultery would not be sufficient to ensure the success of the divorce action.

(3)   A court has declared the defendant a habitual criminal and the defendant is undergoing imprisonment as a result of that sentence

If the defendant has not been declared an habitual criminal, the plaintiff would have to adduce evidence other than the mere fact of the defendant’s imprisonment to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.  In any event, in terms of section 4(2), a plaintiff may sue for divorce after a year’s separation, regardless of whether or not the separation resulted from imprisonment.

Incurable mental illness or continuous unconsciousness

The criteria

Section 5(1) – mental illness

  1. The defendant has been admitted to an institution as a patient in terms of a reception order under the Mental health Act, or is being detained as a state patient or mentally ill convicted prisoner at an institution;
  2. The defendant has not been unconditionally discharged from the institution or place of detention for a continuous period of at least two years immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action;
  3. There is no reasonable prospect that the defendant will be cured of his or her mental illness.  This fact must be proved by the evidence of at least two psychiatrists, one of whom must be appointed by the court.

Section 5(2) – continuous unconsciousness

  1.  The defendant must be in a state of continuous unconsciousness caused by a physical disorder;
  2. The defendant’s unconscious state must have lasted for a period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action;
  3. There must be no reasonable prospect that the defendant will regain consciousness.  This fact must be proved by the evidence of at least two doctors, one of whom must be a neurologist or neurosurgeon appointed by the court.

The requirements of section 5 need not be complied with in order to obtain a divorce order against a mentally ill or unconscious spouse.  A decree of divorce can be granted under section 4 if the plaintiff can prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Only in the most exceptional circumstances will a court make a forfeiture order against a defendant whose mental illness or unconsciousness is the reason for a divorce which is granted in terms of section 4.

Special rules which apply in terms of the Divorce Act:

(a)   Section 5(3)

The court is empowered to appoint a legal practitioner to represent the defendant at the court proceedings, and to order the plaintiff to bear the costs of the defendant’s legal representation.

(b)   Section 5(4)

The court may make any order it deems ft in respect of requiring the plaintiff to furnish security for any patrimonial benefits to which the defendant may be entitled as a result of the divorce.

(c)   Section 9(2)

Forfeiture of patrimonial benefits may not be ordered against a defendant if the marriage is dissolved on the ground of the defendant’s incurable mental illness or continuous unconsciousness.

(d)   Maintenance

The plaintiff may indeed claim maintenance from the mentally ill or unconscious defendant if he or she qualifies for maintenance in terms of section 7(2) of the Act.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys 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.

No maintenance for a sacked lover


Not so long ago I wrote an article about the fact that in South African law there is in fact no such thing as a common law marriage and that partners that cohabitates or live together in a domestic partnership will in fact have no right to claim maintenance from one another. In fact, this was exactly what the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled this week in the matter of McDonald v Young (292/10) [2011] ZASCA 31 on 24 March 2011.

The facts of this case were as follows.

The parties were involved in a relationship and had cohabited, as man and wife, for approximately seven years from June 1999 until May 2006. After the relationship broke down, the appellant instituted an action against the respondent in the Western Cape High Court (Cape Town) for an order declaring that a joint venture agreement existed between the parties in respect of immovable property (the property) situate at Port Island, Port St Francis, in the Eastern Cape, alternatively, for an order that the respondent pay maintenance to the appellant. The high court (Veldhuizen J) found that the appellant had failed to prove the existence of a joint venture agreement and, in respect of the maintenance claim, that there was no duty on the respondent to support the appellant. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court with the leave of the high court.

The issues on appeal, as in the high court, wer whether the appellant has established the existence of a joint venture agreement between the parties, alternatively, whether the respondent is under a duty (by operation of law, or alternatively, by virtue of a tacit contract) to support the appellant subsequent to their cohabitation.

Shortly after the parties were introduced to each other the appellant took up residence with the respondent at her farm in Knysna. The appellant’s main business interest was the promotion and marketing of surfing and surfboard products. During 1999, the appellant and his Durban-based brother had been in the process of establishing a new business, Inter Surf Africa Exporters (ISAE), which was involved in the manufacture and export of surfboards. The appellant did not possess any meaningful assets and had very limited income. The respondent, on the other hand, was a woman of considerable means. She had an annual cash income in excess of R1,3m and possessed substantial assets. When the appellant and the respondent met, they were 59 and 54 years of age, respectively. It was common cause that the appellant had not been in receipt of a regular income and had, for a time, during the course of the relationship, received a monthly allowance from the respondent.

The appellant’s claim to a half-share in the property was based on an express oral joint venture agreement concluded by the parties. The appellant testified that the terms of the agreement were that the respondent would contribute financially to the acquisition, completion and refurbishment of the property while the appellant would contribute his time and expertise to oversee the development of the property. According to the appellant, it was agreed that they would each share jointly in the property. The appellant testified that the primary objective of the agreement was to ensure that he gained financial independence. Despite the fact that the property was to have been registered in both their names, it was subsequently agreed, according to him, that the property would be registered in the respondent’s name for tax purposes. It was common cause that the initial written agreement had reflected both their names as purchasers of the property.

It was contended, on behalf of the appellant, that the high court had erred in failing to accept and rely on the appellant’s evidence regarding the agreement, having particular regard to the fact that his evidence was unchallenged. It was further contended that the respondent’s failure to testify was fatal to her case and that this court was obliged to accept his unchallenged evidence in respect of both the agreement and the claim for maintenance.

In our law it is settled that uncontradicted evidence is not necessarily acceptable or sufficient to discharge an onus. In Kentz (Pty) Ltd v Power, Cloete J undertook a careful review of relevant cases where this principle was endorsed and applied. The learned judge pointed out that the most succinct statement of the law in this regard is to be found in Siffman v Kriel, where Innes CJ said:

‘It does not follow, because evidence is uncontradicted, that therefore it is true . . . The story told by the person on whom the onus rests may be so improbable as not to discharge it.’

It was thus necessary to consider the appellant’s evidence in detail. It was clear from the judgment of the high court that it was mindful that the appellant’s evidence, in order to be reliable, had to be credible. The high court, on the evidence, reached the conclusion that the respondent had ‘initially intended that the contract should reflect the [appellant] as one of the purchasers’. However, it did not accept his evidence in its entirety and went on to find that the appellant had failed to prove the existence of a joint venture agreement.

In the Judge’s view, there were a number of unsatisfactory aspects in the appellant’s evidence. It was significant noted by the court how the appellant’s claim against the respondent has developed over time. During May 2006 and shortly after the parties parted ways, they met, in the presence of their respective attorneys, with a view to settle the disputes between them. The appellant’s evidence regarding the claim he had advanced at that meeting, was as follows:

‘So the idea was to try and settle the split between yourself and Mrs Young? — I accept ─ I looked at it like that because it did look like we weren’t going to get together again, so I assumed that that was the reason.

And what were your claims that day? — My claims that day with regards to my share of Port St Francis, with regards to my contribution I had made over the seven years and discussion on my contract with the bakkie.’

This was in stark contrast to his testimony in the magistrate’s court to the effect that he had, at the time of the meeting, been under the impression that he did not have a claim against the respondent and that the claim had ‘materialised some time afterwards when I . . . approached some attorneys for advice’. The appellant’s explanation for the contradiction, that he had meant to convey that he had not yet ‘implemented’ his claim, is, in my view, unsatisfactory. The very purpose of the meeting was an attempt to resolve the dispute between himself and the respondent without the need to resort to litigation.

On 17 July 2006, and following upon the May 2006 meeting, the appellant’s attorney wrote a letter to the respondent’s attorney, which was intended to ‘motivate and substantiate’ the appellant’s claim against the respondent ‘as comprehensively as possible’. (The Court’s emphasis.) It was recorded in the letter that the appellant believed that a universal partnership had existed between the parties and that he was entitled to ‘some form of compensation’ (The Court’s emphasis.) for his contribution to the partnership. It is instructive that no mention was made of the appellant’s half-share in the property, despite the fact that the appellant testified that he had given his attorney instructions in this regard and that he (the appellant) had had sight of the letter prior to it being dispatched. The development of the appellant’s claim over time is not without significance.

During the period that the parties were cohabiting, the appellant drafted numerous agreements and proposals, the purpose of which was to define the financial relationship between him and the respondent. On 24 July 2003, the respondent executed a sole agency mandate in terms of which she appointed the appellant as agent to sell the property and undertook to pay a commission of ten per cent to him. It was the appellant’s testimony that the commission he would have earned was to have provided him with financial security. The appellant agreed that he had, during October 2004, drafted an agreement, aimed at resolving the constant disputes he and the respondent had had regarding his financial security. The salient terms of this agreement were that (i) he was appointed as sole agent to sell two properties, including the property which is the subject of this dispute; (ii) he would be paid a commission of ten per cent for securing the sale of the properties; and (iii) the respondent would purchase government retail bonds to the value of R500 000 on behalf of the appellant. It was also his evidence that the relationship between him and the respondent had been particularly volatile at that time and his intention, in drafting this agreement, was to achieve clarification regarding his financial position.

It was surprising that the appellant failed to mention his half-share in the property in the October 2004 proposal. This was even more surprising when regard is had to his evidence that he was at that time concerned, as there was uncertainty regarding his financial future. The wording of this proposal, as well as the agency agreement, excludes the possibility that he had acquired a share in the property. It was in the court’s view extremely improbable that had the parties agreed in 1999 when the property was purchased that they would be joint owners thereof, the appellant would not, in 2004, have recorded his right to, or even a claim for, a half-share in a proposal aimed at settling outstanding matters between him and the respondent.

Counsel for the appellant attached great importance to the fact that the initial agreement had recorded both parties’ names as purchasers. The appellant assumed that both names were inserted on the instructions of the respondent. There was no evidence to support this assumption. Even if such instructions did emanate from the respondent, it does not necessarily follow, as was found by the high court, that this meant that there was an agreement between the parties as alleged by the appellant. The recording of both parties’ names is nothing more than an indicator pointing towards the conclusion of an agreement and it is a factor to be considered in conjunction with the probabilities.

There were a number of factors that support the respondent’s denial of the existence of a joint venture agreement between the parties. These included: the claim as articulated at the meeting with their legal representatives shortly after the break-up, the letter written after that meeting, various agreements drafted by the appellant, and the unsatisfactory and often contradictory evidence given by the appellant. The court mentioned that the appellant contradicted himself on one of the essential terms of the agreement, namely, whether it was agreed that he would be entitled to half of the proceeds of the sale of the property only or the property together with its contents.

The appellant bore the onus of proving the agreement upon which he relied as well as the terms thereof. Having regard to the deficiencies in the appellant’s evidence and the probabilities, it cannot be said that it measures up to the standard required for acceptability in respect of the existence of the joint venture agreement. In Da Mata v Otto NO, Van Blerk JA, dealing with the approach to be adopted when deciding probabilities, said:

‘In regard to the appellant’s sworn statements alleging the oral agreement, it does not follow that because these allegations were not contradicted ─ the only witness who could have disputed them had died ─ they should be taken as proof of the facts involved. Wigmore on Evidence, 3rd ed., vol. VII, p. 260, states that the mere assertion of any witness does not of itself need to be believed, even though he is unimpeached in any manner, because to require such belief would be to give a quantative and impersonal measure to testimony. The learned author in this connection at p. 262 cites the following passage from a decision quoted:

“It is not infrequently supposed that a sworn statement is necessarily proof, and that, if uncontradicted, it established the fact involved. Such is by no means the law. Testimony, regardless of the amount of it, which is contrary to all reasonable probabilities or conceded facts ─ testimony which no sensible man can believe ─ goes for nothing; while the evidence of a single witness to a fact, there being nothing to throw discredit thereon, cannot be disregarded.”’

The appellant’s testimony was contrary to all reasonable probabilities and, despite the fact that it was unchallenged, counts for ‘nothing’. In assessing the probabilities, the conclusion seems to be inescapable that the appellant has not discharged the onus resting on him. It follows that the appellant was not entitled to the relief sought in respect of the main claim.

The court considered the alternative claim for maintenance and dealt first with the argument that such a duty existed by operation of law. In South African law, certain family relationships, such as parent and child and husband and wife, create a duty of support. The common law has been extended in line with the Constitution to protect contractual rights of support in the same way as the common law duty of support. In Amod v Multilateral Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund (Commission for Gender Equality Intervening), this High Court of Appeal recognised a contractual right to support arising out of a marriage in terms of Islamic law for purposes of a dependant’s action. In Du Plessis v Road Accident Fund, the common law action by a spouse, for loss of support against the wrongdoer who unlawfully kills the other spouse, was extended to partners in a same-sex permanent life relationship similar in other respects to marriage, who had tacitly undertaken reciprocal duties of support. The Constitutional Court in Satchwell v President of the Republic of South Africa & another, found that the common law duty of support, could, in certain circumstances, be extended to persons in a same-sex relationship. Madala J, writing for the court, commented as follows:

‘The law attaches a duty of support to various family relationships, for example, husband and wife, and parent and child. In a society where the range of family formations has widened, such a duty of support may be inferred as a matter of fact in certain cases of persons involved in permanent, same-sex life partnerships. Whether such a duty of support exists or not will depend on the circumstances of each case.’

Counsel for the appellant relied on Kahn, Amod and Du Plessis in support of his contention that a legal duty of support rests on the respondent. This contention was misplaced. In both Amod and Khan, the parties in respect of whom a duty of support had been alleged had been married to each other in terms of Islamic law. The ratio of the court, in both cases, was that the marriage between the parties had given rise to reciprocal contractual duties of support on the part of the parties to that marriage. In Du Plessis, Cloete JA, having had regard to the facts of that matter, concluded that the plaintiff had proved that the deceased had undertaken to support him and that the deceased had owed the plaintiff a contractual duty of support. The learned judge of appeal said:

‘In the present case the case for drawing an inference that the plaintiff and the deceased undertook reciprocal duties of support is even stronger. The plaintiff and the deceased would have married one another if they could have done so. As this course was not open to them, they went through a “marriage” ceremony which was as close as possible to a heterosexual marriage ceremony. The fact that the plaintiff and the deceased went through such a “marriage” ceremony and did so before numerous witnesses gives rise to the inference that they intended to do the best they could to publicise to the world that they intended their relationship to be, and to be regarded as, similar in all respects to that of a heterosexual married couple, ie one in which the parties would have a reciprocal duty of support. That having been their intention, it must be accepted as a probability that they tacitly undertook a reciprocal duty of support to one another.

Further support for this finding is the fact that the plaintiff and the deceased thereafter lived together as if they were legally married in a stable and permanent relationship until the deceased was killed some 11 years later; they were accepted by their family and friends as partners in such a relationship; they pooled their income and shared their family responsibilities; each of them made a will in which the other partner was appointed his sole heir; and when the plaintiff was medically boarded, the deceased expressly stated that he would support the plaintiff financially and in fact did so until he died.’

Amod, Khan and Du Plessis were decided on the basis of contracts entered into by the respective parties, and are not authority for the contention that there is a duty of support, by operation of law, on the respondent to maintain the appellant.

The question whether the relationship between the parties, a heterosexual couple who choose to live together, free from the bonds of matrimony, gives rise to a legal duty of support, could in the Judge’s view, be answered with reference to Volks NO v Robinson & others. In that matter the Constitutional Court was concerned with the interpretation and constitutionality of s 2(1), read with s 1, of the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990, which confers on surviving spouses the right to claim maintenance from the estates of their deceased spouses if they are not able to support themselves. The court had to determine whether the exclusion of survivors of permanent life partnerships from the protection of the Act constituted unfair discrimination. Skweyiya J, writing for the majority, referred with approval to the comments made by O’Regan J in Dawood & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others; Shalabi & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others; Thomas & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others that:

‘Marriage and the family are social institutions of vital importance. Entering into and sustaining a marriage is a matter of intense private significance to the parties to that marriage for they make a promise to one another to establish and maintain an intimate relationship for the rest of their lives which they acknowledge obliges them to support one another, to live together and to be faithful to one another.

The institutions of marriage and the family are important social institutions that provide for the security, support and companionship of members of our society and bear an important role in the rearing of children. The celebration of a marriage gives rise to moral and legal obligations, particularly the reciprocal duty of support placed upon spouses and their joint responsibility for supporting and raising children born of the marriage. These legal obligations perform an important social function.’

The Constitutional Court was of the view that the law may distinguish between married people and unmarried people and may, in appropriate circumstances, accord benefits to married people which it does not accord to unmarried people. The learned justice reasoned as follows in para 55:

‘There are a wide range of legal privileges and obligations that are triggered by the contract of marriage. In a marriage the spouses’ rights are largely fixed by law and not by agreement, unlike in the case of parties who cohabit without being married.’

The court found that whilst there was a reciprocal duty of support between married persons, ‘no duty of support arises by operation of law in the case of unmarried cohabitants’. This was an unequivocal statement of the law by the Constitutional Court. Skweyiya J went on to state that to the extent that any obligations arise between cohabitants during the subsistence of their relationship, these arise by agreement and only to the extent of that agreement.

The court also considered whether a contractual duty of support towards the appellant existed. The argument, presented as a second alternative to the claim based on a joint venture, was that the court should find that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement in terms of which the respondent had agreed to support the appellant even after the end of their relationship.

The facts upon which the appellant relies in support of his claim that the respondent had assumed a duty of support towards him are the following:

(i) He and the respondent had lived together as if they were legally married in a stable and permanent relationship;

(ii) The respondent had supported him during the seven-year period that they had resided together and the appellant had been dependent on such support. She had given him an allowance, provided transport for him and paid for entertainment and overseas holidays;

(iii) The respondent had, in a series of wills, made extensive provision for financial support of the appellant in the event of her death;

(iv) The respondent was a wealthy woman while he had no assets and very limited income;

(v) He had contributed to the maintenance of and increase in value of the respondent’s estate, often at the expense of his own business interests; (vi) The appellant was reliant on an income from employment and could not, due to his advanced age, guarantee for how much longer he would be able to earn a living; and

(vii) The respondent had advised the appellant that she had sufficient funds to support both of them.

The argument that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement regarding maintenance cannot be sustained for a number of reasons. First, the reliance on a tacit contract is inconsistent with the appellant’s evidence. The appellant believed and gave evidence to the effect that he and the respondent had concluded an express agreement in respect of the property, the aim of which was to ensure that he was financially independent. Implicit in this is the intention that he would not have to rely on the respondent, or any other person, for financial support. In the circumstances, the appellant could not have formed the intention to contract tacitly with the respondent. Having regard to his evidence that the purpose of the joint venture agreement was to render him financially independent, the appellant could not at the same time have contemplated, that the respondent would continue to support him for the rest of his life. A tacit contract must not extend to more than the parties contemplated. In Rand Trading Co Ltd v Lewkewitsch the parties had erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence between them. The court did not accept the argument that the company’s conduct in recognising the existence of the lease, paying the rent and otherwise performing in terms of the contract had created a binding contract. Solomon J said:

‘But I think the answer to that argument is a very clear one, and it is this ─ that all these facts are explained on the simple ground that both parties erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence between them . . . And the mere fact . . . that both parties erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence at that date altogether precludes us from now inferring a new contract.’

The appellant’s stated belief, that there was an express contract between him and the respondent in respect of the property, precludes this court from drawing an inference to the effect that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement the terms of which were inconsistent with the express agreement to which he testified. It was not open for the appellant to contend that if the court disbelieved his evidence that a joint venture agreement had been concluded, the court should infer from the proved facts that a tacit contract had come into existence, because such an inference cannot be drawn where it would conflict with what he said was the actual position. A litigant can plead, but not testify, in the alternative.

Secondly, the appellant’s evidence was that the respondent’s attitude had always been that in the event that their relationship ended, he would receive no financial benefit from her. This conduct, on the part of the respondent, is inconsistent with a tacit agreement to support the appellant. The appellant’s explanation for drafting the various proposals regarding the financial relationship between him and the respondent was as follows:

‘Well, the motivation behind it at that particular time, we were going through quite a patchy period; we were arguing and not agreeing on a lot of things. And it appeared to me that all of a sudden my situation could alter and I’d be left standing high and dry. And I discussed it with Lesley [the respondent] and I felt that if we had something in writing, and if that did occur at least I had something to fall back on . . . ’. (Emphasis added.)

It is trite that a tacit contract is established by conduct. In order to establish a tacit contract, the conduct of the parties must be such that it justifies an inference that there was consensus between them. There must be evidence of conduct which justifies an inference that the parties intended to, and did, contract on the terms alleged. It is clear from the appellant’s evidence that there was no consensus between the parties. The appellant, on his own testimony, was uncertain about his financial future. He realised that he would only be entitled to what had been agreed between the parties, hence his desire to have a written contract ‘to fall back on’. The respondent’s attitude, as testified to by the appellant, that he would leave the relationship without any financial benefit, is an indicator that she had not, tacitly or otherwise, agreed to support the appellant. I am not satisfied that this court can conclude, from all the relevant proven facts and circumstances, that a tacit contract, in terms of which the respondent undertook to financially maintain the appellant, for as long as he needed such maintenance, came into existence.

For those reasons, the appellant’s maintenance claim which is premised on a legal, alternatively, a contractual duty, failed.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys 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.

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.

http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

Love and Money: Tie up the loose ends before you tie the knot


The major problem with an antenuptial contract is that it is drawn up at a time when divorce is probably the last thing on one’s mind.

Yet the contract governs what will happen to a married couple’s assets in the event of divorce or dissolution of the marriage. And it has implications for married life too. Moreover, it’s a bargain compared to what a wedding costs.

There are three types of marriage regimes in South Africa:

  • In community of property – everything is pooled into a joint estate; husband and wife become owners of all assets at the time of the marriage, and all assets and liabilities thereafter. The advantage is economic equality; the disadvantage is there is no protection if one of the spouses becomes insolvent or is sued. The joint estate is then liable for the debts of both parties;
  • Out of community of property before 1984 – it is common in such a marriage for one party to have significantly more assets than the other. For instance, the wife brought up the children, while the husband was the breadwinner. In the event of divorce in this instance, the courts have discretion to award a redistribution of assets;
  • Out of community of property after 1984 – unless specifically stated in the antenuptial contract, such a marriage is subject to the accrual system; what is amassed over the life of the marriage is accrued. If a marriage out of community of property after 1984 with accrual is dissolved, the parties get an equal share of what they have amassed over the marriage, minus what they owe.

If accrual is expressly excluded, the parties have no claims against each other, other than for maintenance.

The advantage is that there is protection for spouses should the other become insolvent. Each spouse has his/her own estate and does not share in the other’s profit or loss. But not sharing in profits could be a major disadvantage for the spouse with a much smaller estate.

When drafting the antenuptial contract, the spouses can expressly exclude certain assets, such as a property or a share portfolio.

The advantage is protection should one of the spouses become insolvent. There is a fair division of profit accumulated during the marriage, but not prior to it.

Wealth, ignorance and poverty play a role in determining which format is chosen, said Bertus Preller, a divorce and family law attorney at Abrahams & Gross. Most married couples from a poor or uneducated background marry in community of property because they don’t have the means to pay the fees for an antenuptial contract, or simply lack the knowledge.

Preller said marriage out of community of property with the accrual system is perhaps, the fairest marriage system for most couples.

One of the advantages of an antenuptial contract is that there is nothing preventing one spouse from making a donation to the other – there is no donations tax between husband and wife – provided that the donor is solvent and that the donation doesn’t render him/her insolvent.

This is the only regime that allows for tax-free donations between spouses.

The reason for the accrual system is, essentially, to protect the wife.

One’s circumstances will usually dictate what marriage option to choose. In a second marriage, for example, the couple may be in their 40s or 50s and exclude accrual altogether. There may be children from earlier marriages. Accrual would affect what children inherit.

To be valid, the antenuptial contract must be signed by both parties prior to the marriage before a notary public. It must be registered at the Deeds Office within three months of marriage.

Attorneys’ and/or notaries’ fees to draft and register a simple antenuptial contract vary between R1000 and R3000.

To change it, the parties must make a court application and place adverts seeking creditors’ approval. The cost is between R10000 and R20000.

Source: Times Live

About Bertus Preller:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. 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.

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