Divorce Attorney Cape Town

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.

International Divorce in South Africa, Spouse Living Overseas


A spouse living in South Africa is able to institute divorce proceedings through the divorce courts in South Africa if a spouse lives overseas. The same applies when you are a South African citizen that lives overseas and one spouse resides in South Africa.

In terms of the South African Divorce Act, a South African court will have jurisdiction where the parties or either of the parties are domiciled in the area of the court’s jurisdiction on the date on which the action is instituted or ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the date on which the action is instituted or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date.

The above also implies that foreigners (people who are not South African citizens) and who have been living in South Africa for more than a year, may divorce through the South African courts.

After service has taken place, your spouse will have a month to defend. If he ignores the summons or, if he  defends it, after reaching settlement of the financial terms, the attorney can set the matter down for a trial date that has been pre-arranged.

The person instituting the divorce proceedings are called the Plaintiff. Where the parties reached a settlement, only the Plaintiff appears in Court. So, if a Plaintiff lives abroad he/she will have to appear once the matter is placed on the Court roll. The same applies if the Plaintiff resides in South Africa. In an uncontested divorce it is not necessary for the Defendant to appear in court.

  • Where a Defendant (the person against whom the divorce is instituted) lives in another country, a Plaintiff must approach the court by way of what is known in law as an Edictal Citation application. The reason for this is that a Summons in divorce proceedings must be served on the Defendant personally and the Court needs to be satisfied that service will be done properly by an official of the court in that foreign country. Edictal citation is therefore a procedure according to which a legal document such as a divorce summons is served by a sheriff (in some countries known as a “service processor” or a solicitor) in a different country.
  • There is also another method to serve summons on the Defendant by serving the Summons on an address in South Africa which the Defendant had chosen in terms of a Power of Attorney.

Where the divorce is uncontested, the process is relatively easy. But where the divorce is of a contested nature it is more problematic.  After serving of the summons in a foreign country, a spouse will have a month to defend the action. If he or she ignores the summons or, if he or she defends it, after reaching settlement on the financial terms the matter may be setdown for a date that has been pre-arranged with the Registrar of the High Court.

If your spouse  disappeared, the court will order that the divorce summons be served by way of substituted service (i.e. other than by way of personal service) so it may order, e.g., that it be served on a relative of your spouse or by way of publication in a newspaper that your spouse used to read.

Where your spouse has disappeared, you will have to satisfy the court that you have done everything in your power to trace him or her as personal service is clearly preferable and the least prejudicial form of service.

Abrahams and Gross Attorneys specialises in international divorce matters concerning South African citizens and has acted in matters for South Africans living in countries such as Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Indonesia, The United Emirates, Germany, New Zeeland, Spain, Namibia and Germany to mention but a few.

info@divorceattorney.co.za

www.divorceattorney.co.za

Hotline: +27834439838

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Adultery in South Africa, can I claim against a third party in a divorce


adultery

From a moral, ethical and religious perspective adultery is a sin and an act contrary to the basis of trust between married spouses and so is the behaviour of that infamous third party that broke up the marriage seen as immoral.  The purpose of this article is to revisit the law in respect of an aggrieved parties’ right to institute a claim for damages against the third party that was privy in the break-up of a marriage, i.e a claim against the mistress for monetary relief, to make good the hardship caused by the affair and the enticement of the spouse to leave the communal home in search of the greener pastures. The article is purely focussed on the law and not the public view or for that matter the religious viewpoint.

Our law has recognised in the past a claim for damages that can be instituted by an aggrieved spouse against a mistress. But what does our law say on the subject and is the law evolving away from the public view and religious views.

It is argued that the South African common law on which a Plaintiff’s claim is predicated for damages against a spouse who committed adultery in a marriage must be developed to promote the spirit, purport and objective of the Bill of Rights contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 (“the Constitution”) and the interests of justice (under Section 39 (2) and section 173 of the Constitution).

According to the view expressed above it is argued that the time has come to develop the common law so as to remove or curtail claims for damages by a married person, utilising the actio iniuriarum, against a person involved in an intimate relationship with the married person’s spouse. The actio iniuriarum is used to claim for the impairment of one’s personality.  The purpose of this action is to compensate for the intentional injury to one’s mental integrity.

The argument against such a claim is that it breaches the right to human dignity (of the adulterer and mistress) under Section 10 of the Constitution, in that:

  1. The relationship and love between the adulterer and mistress is treated as morally reprehensible or without opprobrium.
  2. The mistress is held wholly responsible for damage caused to an aggrieved spouse by the other spouse’s marital infidelity; and
  3. The mistress is treated as an instrument, in that her human relationship with the adulterer is used as a means to express condemnation for the adulterer’s marital infidelity, and/or to generate sympathy for the aggrieved spouse.

It is further argued that such a claim breach the adulterer and mistress’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination under Section 9 of the Constitution on basis of marital status, conscience and belief in that:

  1. No similar claim for damages is possible against a person who begins an intimate relationship with a man or a woman   involved in a long-term homosexual or heterosexual relationship, customary law marriage or religious union;
  2. The emotional consequences and loss for the aggrieved partner (i.e the person who learns of the infidelity of his or her partner with a third person) in all of the above relationships may be no more or less serious than a spouse in a marital relationship;
  3. The law accordingly differentiates between a person who enters a relationship with a married person; and a person who enters a relationship with a person in other types of committed, long-term relationships;
  4. The differentiation amounts to unfair discrimination on the basis of marital status and on the basis that it impairs, or has the potential to impair, the fundamental human dignity of an adulterer and a mistress.

It can further be argued that an adulterer and mistress’ right to privacy under Section 14 of the Constitution is violated in that it causes a public inquiry into the details of their relationship, how it formed and its strength.

Furthermore it seems that an adulterer and mistress’ rights to freedom of conscience, thought, belief and opinion under Section 15 of the Constitution, expression under Section 16 (1) of the Constitution and freedom of association under Section 18 of the Constitution also come into play for the following reasons:

  1. Burdening people such as the mistress with damages will have a detrimental effect on her ability to honestly and openly express her emotions and love for another person;
  2. The expression of emotions and love between the adulterer and mistress will be treated as morally reprehensible or tainted with moral opprobrium.

Therefore it seems that the common law must be developed in the interests of justice taking in to account the recognition that both parties contribute to the breakdown of the marriage relationship, which is inherent in the ground for divorce introduced in Section 4 of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979, namely “the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

It is so that many foreign jurisdictions don’t tolerate such claims anymore and that there seems to be developments in South African case law to that effect. The historic view in our law that damages are awarded on the basis of the insult caused to the innocent party and of the loss of consortium seems to be outdated and time will tell on how our courts will develop the common law.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

www.divorceattorney.co.za

info@divorceattorney.co.za

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