Divorce Attorney Cape Town


Never rush into a division of retirement savings in a divorce settlement.

Divorce settlement agreements or court orders that award a share of a fund member’s retirement savings to a non-member spouse are rejected by retirement fund administrators for various reasons, including the court order not stating the name of the fund.

Where a spouse belongs to a number of retirement funds (for example, a pension fund and a provident fund), it may not be clear against which fund the divorce order can be enforced, especially if the order states only the words “the fund” instead of the words “the funds”.

  • Date of divorce

The situation where the date of the divorce is after the member spouse left the fund complicates the issue. The definition of a “pension interest” in the Divorce Act has a connotation that, in order to calculate the pension interest, the member has to be in active employment and active fund membership at the date of divorce so that it may be deemed that he or she has resigned on the date of divorce and his or her former spouse is now entitled to a portion of his or her fund benefit as at that date.

But, if your employment (which is a condition for fund membership) already terminated at the date of divorce, then you cannot be deemed to have resigned at the date of divorce and your former spouse cannot be paid a portion of what would have been your fund benefit at the date of divorce.

  • Decision-making

A non-member spouse is at liberty to make a decision in terms of the divorce settlement agreement. It happens frequently in some divorce orders that the non-member spouse, as part of the divorce settlement, is compelled to preserve the benefit and is being forced to transfer the benefit to a preservation fund.

In terms of the Pension Funds Act, a retirement fund is compelled to give the non-member spouse the right to decide how the pension interest award should be paid out to the member. On presentation of a valid divorce order, the fund has normally 45 days to request the non-member spouse to decide how the pension interest due to him/her must be paid. The non-member spouse has 120 days in which to make a decision.

If the decision is made in terms of the divorce settlement agreement and the fund is not made a party to that agreement, the fund cannot enforce the provision.

  • Interest on the benefit

In terms of legislation, no interest is payable in the first 120 days from the date of the divorce to the date on which the non-member spouse decides what to do with his/her share of the benefit. Interest is added only for periods exceeding 120 days. This should be reviewed to allow interest to be payable from the date of the divorce, because, when markets are volatile, it can make a difference to the non-member spouse or the member spouse.

Before obtaining a divorce, both the member spouse and the non-member spouse should ask the retirement fund or its administrator about the current fund value and the present value of the pension interest – these two values may differ – to ensure an equitable division of the assets.

Frequently the member spouse is reluctant to co-operate in this process, but the non-member spouse is entitled to ask the fund for the relevant information. If the fund is not prepared to divulge the information, the non-member spouse may be entitled to it in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The current fund value is the amount typically reflected on a benefit statement and indicates the value of the member’s investment – the rand value of all the assets in the member’s underlying portfolios on a given date in a defined contribution fund or an RA fund, or the actuarial reserve value (the amount notionally held by the fund to provide for the future retirement benefit) in a defined benefit fund.

In most defined contribution funds, the resignation benefit will equal the current fund value, but this may not be the case in defined benefit funds. In retirement annuity (RA) funds, because the pension interest consists of contributions plus simple interest, the effect of compounded returns usually means that the current fund value will be significantly higher than the pension interest.

If sufficient uncertainty exists as to which fund is in fact intended, the divorce order will not be enforceable. Orders are frequently obtained in which the insurance company that sponsors or administers the pension fund is mistakenly cited instead of the fund. It is not sufficient to refer to the sponsor or administrator (for example, the Old Mutual pension fund), as these financial institutions typically operate several funds.

The law provides for two separate systems for a non-member spouse to access a member spouse’s pension on divorce.

These are:

  • Ordinary matrimonial law – The principles of ordinary law concerning the division of assets on divorce cover pension benefits that have already accrued to a fund member at the time of divorce. An example of an accrued benefit is where a member has retired from a fund and has been paid a lump sum benefit and/or a monthly pension at the time the divorce order is granted.
  • Section 7(7) of the Divorce Act – In terms of an amendment to the Divorce Act, a non-member spouse is entitled to share in the assets of a pension fund member where the benefit has not accrued to the member at the date of the divorce.

Divorce Settlement Agreements – can they be varied without a formal court application?

It happens frequently that the circumstances change years after a divorce Settlement Agreement was concluded. For example, as in the case of GF v SH and Others 2011 (3) SA 25 (GNP). In this case, the ex  husband and ex wife agreed amongst themselves with the intervention of a mediator that their children would spend more time at the ex husband’s house and adopted a shared parenting approach. Necessarily the new arrangement had a bearing on the maintenance that the ex husband paid to his ex wife for the children as the children spent more time in the ex husband’s care. The mediated agreement was never signed between the parties, or the original Settlement Agreement varied, but the ex husband paid the reduced maintenance. After some time the wife, probably acting out of scorn issued a warrant of execution for the non payment of maintenance as per the original court order. The facts appear below.

In terms of the settlement agreement custody of the minor children was awarded to the wife, subject to the applicant’s reasonable rights of access. In addition the settlement agreement provided that the applicant was to pay maintenance at the rate of R5000 per month per child, escalating annually at the consumer price index rate. In addition the applicant was to pay for all the educational and medical expenses incurred in respect of the minor children.

Following the divorce, the parties appeared to have had ongoing problems and disputes that related to the payment of maintenance, timeousness and the adequacy of such payments, as well as issues relevant to the parenting of the children, including decisions related to their upbringing and well being.

On 15 April 2010 the wife caused a warrant of execution in the sum of R303 154,62, plus interest and costs, to be issued at court for arrear maintenance and non-compliance with their divorce order. Following the issuing of the warrant the wife attached certain goods from the home of the ex husband and belonging to him.

The ex husband’s case was based on the fact that changes were made by himself and the wife to the residency arrangements in respect of the minor children, which changes became operative from March 2008 until about June 2009 and as such his liability to pay the maintenance provided for in the court order of 27 August 2002 had been varied by agreement between himself and the wife. He further contended that, in terms of the change of residency arrangements reached in March 2008, the parties agreed to have the minor children with them for alternate weeks. In addition there was a further mediated agreement with regard to a new payment regime, insofar as it related to the payment of maintenance, in terms of which regime the applicant would not be required to pay any maintenance directly to the wife, but instead would cover all expenses incurred in respect of the maintenance of the minor children and make such payments directly to third parties or, in appropriate instances, to service providers and the children. In this regard it appeared that the parties were assisted by one Charles Cohen, a mediator with expertise in the area of family law.

The wife’s contention was that even though there may have been changes to the residency arrangements insofar as these related to the minor children, it did not absolve the husband from complying with the express provisions of the court order and settlement agreement of 27 August 2002 relating to maintenance payments. In this regard it was the wife’s stance that since the written agreement of settlement provided that ‘save for the above, the provisions of this agreement shall not be capable of being varied (save by a court of competent jurisdiction), amended, added to, supplemented, novated or cancelled unless this is contained in writing and signed by both parties’, any oral or informal arrangement was of no force or effect and not binding on the parties. Alternatively the wife contended that even if there was a variation, it only applied in respect of a trial period from August 2008 to November 2008, and that at best her ex husband would be absolved from paying maintenance for three months (August 2008 to October 2008), and the warrant of execution, if incorrectly issued, was incorrect to that extent, and that extent only.

The agreement was never signed by the parties and the question that the court had to pronounce was whether a Settlement Agreement in a divorce action could be varied by mutual agreement, without resorting to court to vary the Agreement formally.

The principle of non-variation of a written agreement in the context of a non-variation-except-in-writing clause was firmly established in the matter of Shifren and Others v SA Sentrale Ko-op Graanmaatskappy Bpk 1964 (2) SA 343 (O). The stance, which essentially proceeds from the premise that any attempt to agree informally to vary a contract containing a non-variation clause, except in writing, must fail, was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Brisley v Drostky 2002 (4) SA 1 (SCA) (2002 (12) BCLR 1229; [2002] 3 All SA 363). The court however found that there must be instances where public policy may justify a departure from the Shifren principle in the area of family law. Without suggesting that such departure should be easily justified or readily countenanced, there must be due regard to the context within which parenting takes place, and within which decisions that may on the face of it vary an express obligation, are arrived at to attain some other socially desirable objective — the best interests of the child. In all the circumstances the demands and the consideration of public policy, in the context of ensuring the development of family law, that are consistent with the values of the Constitution, including the values of equality and non-discrimination, as well as ensuring the advancement of the best interests of the child, would in the court’s view, in appropriate instances and where a proper case is made out, certainly justify a departure from what has become known as the Shifren principle.

The court further noted that if indeed the Shifren principle were entrenched and did not apply in the context of family law, it may well have the effect of achieving all kinds of unintended consequences that may well militate against the development of a public policy consistent with the norms and values of our Constitution. In particular, a strict adherence to those principles may well mean that parents become saddled with a disproportionate share of their responsibility in respect of the maintenance and upbringing of a minor child. It may well have the effect of restricting the ability of parents to do that which the best interests of the child demand, as opposed to that which they are obliged to do in terms of an agreement of settlement, which terms and provisions may well not have kept in touch with the changing times and developments relevant to the context.

From the above it is clear that a Settlement Agreement in a divorce, that was not varied by a formal application to court, may be varied by agreement between the parties, without formally applying to the court to vary such order. It is however of utmost importance that agreements that vary an existing Settlement Agreement be reduced to writing and signed by both parties.

About the Author

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.

Interview with Bertus Preller, a celebrity divorce attorney based in Cape Town

Business Times Interview – by Adele Shevel

Maria Shriver’s doing it; Tiger Wood’s wife did it. Making the decision to terminate a marriage is a tough one, and the chances are it’s followed by an even more traumatic lead-up to the divorce.

Shriver and Woods are very wealthy, their husbands hugely successful, and high profile infidelity was peppered into the mix. But it’s not only the rich who need to ascertain the financial situation of their husbands.

Women are encouraged to gather as much financial information about their husband’s financial affairs before the divorce proceedings commence, to establish the magnitude of the estate.

Bertus Preller, a celebrity divorce attorney at Abrahams and Gross in Cape Town provides guidance as to how to get your affairs in order before making that final call.

“It’s extremely important for any woman to know what’s going on in her husband’s financial affairs. It’s difficult when you don’t have access to his share portfolio or balance sheet, but one must reasonably expect to get an idea of financial affairs.”

An attorney cannot negotiate on behalf of a client without knowing in advance what the estate is worth.

In many divorce settlements, the wife ends up seeing what the estate is worth after it takes place.

  • Make copies of your husband’s bank statements, credit card statements and get hold of the short-term insurance policies as well as copies of pension funds and retirement funds. This will provide input on the extent of assets available and the value of the estate.
  • Build a clause into the settlement agreement to say if any assets that come to light after the divorce settlement, the wife is entitled to 50% of those assets and the husband will have to pay the legal fees involved in this process.
  • A more accurate sense of assets will come to light if the divorce is contested as parties are required to disclose any information to do with financial affairs. The husband can be required under oath to make full disclosure of his assets, and it is perjury if he doesn’t.
  • Women are advised not to leave the matrimonial home if children are involved, because it provides a sense of stability for the kids. It’s better for the husband to leave. If he makes himself guilty of abuse, the wife can get a restraining order to evict him from the property. In some instances, the husband can be restricted from accessing certain parts of the home.
  • Where the parties are married in community of property the wife is entitled to half the pension or retirement annuity fund. In a marriage out of community with the accrual, the pension fund will be regarded as part of the husband’s assets for purposes of calculating the accrual.
  • In terms of the Divorce Act, the wife (if married in community of property) can choose to ask for the pension fund money to be paid in cash, or transferred to a pension fund of her choice.  Normally pension funds pay out the wife’s portion in 3 to 6 months after the divorce. Wives of employees for the SA government have had to wait for her husband to resign or die before she could access her portion of his pension. But this might change — a judgement issued this month said it was unconstitutional for the wife of a government employee not to be allowed to access his pension following a divorce.
  • Make a list of your monthly income and expenses, as if you’re going to live on your own with your children. It’s important because you get situations where the wife is not working or earns much less than the husband and doesn’t have the money to fight a divorce battle.  She can bring an application pending a divorce, for interim maintenance, which means contributing maintenance before the divorce is finalised. She can also apply for contribution to her legal expenses. If interim-maintenance is granted and the husband does not comply with the court order, he is in contempt of court.
  • In some instances the wife can apply for emergency monetary relief in the magistrate’s court pending the institution of an application for interim maintenance by utilizing the provisions of the domestic violence act because the husband has blocked the use of credit.
  • Interim maintenance falls away once the divorce order is granted. There have been situations where the wife has been granted very favourable interim maintenance terms, so she stalls the divorce in order to continue getting a hearty amount of money each month.
  • The granting of interim maintenance divorce cannot be appealed. The only way the husband can minimize this is if he goes back to court and explains and proves that his financial situation has changed so much that he’s entitled to a reduction. But this does not happen easily.
  • Many battles in a divorce surround the children. Normally the wife is the parent of primary residence and the husband the parent of alternate residence. Increasingly, there’s a shared parenting approach with children staying with the mother for a week and then the father for a week and each party takes care of the children during that period.  “We see a lot of children used as a weapon. I tend to immediately get a parenting plan in place, and register that with the family advocate and stipulate that if issues arise with parenting and the children they need to go to a psychologist or a social worker”.
  • In matters where money is not fought over, it may make financial sense to go to one lawyer who can work for both parties. But a divorce that is acrimonious requires that each party needs a lawyer to assist.
  • A few mediation organizations exist where people can see a mediator to resolve disputes, to settle with both parties. The mediator doesn’t have the authority to issue and award damages but he can facilitate the process. If an abusive husband is involved, mediation is unlikely to work.  But it can work if the divorce is not acrimonious. Parties have to pay. “Sometimes this route can be more expensive than an uncontested divorce, depending on the amount of sessions that the parties have to attend” says Preller.
  • Where a couple owns a property together, they need to decide whether both parties want to keep the interest in the property, sell the property and split the proceeds, or whether one wants to buy out the other. The decision has financial implications because of transfer duties and tax.
  • It’s important to consider instances where the husband has no assets. A policy should be taken out in the event that the husband passes away and there is no money to help cover maintenance, in case of his death.

“The decision to divorce is a business decision. You need to look at what happens until the children turn 21, that there’s maintenance, medical cover for them, a school education and whether it’s government or private school and tertiary education,” says Preller.

About Bertus Preller

Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Attorney based 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. and deals with Family and Divorce matters across the country.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 clients include celebrities, actors and actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, television presenters and various high net worth individuals.

His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, International Divorce Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Bertus also has a passion for gadgets and technology and he co-pioneered the development of technology in which the first book in the world was delivered to a mobile phone utilizing sms and java technology and also advised a number of South African book publishers on the Google Book settlement class action and negotiated contracts with the likes of Google and Amazon.com.

He specializes in 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.

Divorce, moneys lent and advanced to the other spouse

It is not uncommon for parties in a marriage to advance to advance to the other spouse amounts of money from time to time. Between the two spouses this would normally be regarded as a transaction of borrowing money or lending, but the legal implications might be otherwise depending on the matrimonial system (married in community or out of community of property) applicable to the marriage.

Where the spouses are married to each other in community of property, the joint estate is divided on the date of divorce as it exists on date of divorce, including all the assets and liabilities. Parties who are married in community of property obtain an undivided half share in all the assets which constitute the joint estate and in most instances become jointly liable for all debts incurred. So if the spouses were married in community of property and enter into an agreement in terms whereof the one party lends an amount of money to the other, the right to claim such an amount is an asset of the joint estate and the liability to pay the amount is a liability of the joint estate. It therefore follows that it is impossible to enforce such a claim on divorce as a result of the fact that the parties are married in community of property.

Where spouses are married out of community of property it is possible to claim as a result of the fact that the parties are married out of community of property and does not share in the profit or loss. The right to claim such an amount would be an asset for purposes of determining the value of a spouse’s estate.  Where parties’ were married before 1 November 1984 a claim in respect of moneys lent will form a basis of a claim to claim a transfer of assets in terms of section 7 (3) of the Divorce Act. Where parties married after 1 November 1984 a claim to recoup moneys advanced would be simple if proved.

It is also interesting to note that a claim for moneys advanced where the parties married out of community of property, cannot prescribe in terms of the Prescription Act 68 of 1969.

It is therefore important to note that where a party is married in community of property and that party advanced moneys to the other spouse that a claim cannot be instituted for the recovery thereof.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.



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