Divorce, Child and Family law

Family Law encompasses a wide range of legal matters that require the assistance of a skilled attorney. Our experienced Family and Divorce Law team is able to deal with any family law issues that arise, including:

• Antenuptial contracts
• Applications for interim support and/or contact arrangements pending a divorce
• Applications for the change of spouses’ matrimonial property regime
• Applications for the recognition of foreign divorce orders
• Applications regarding parental rights and responsibilities
• Child abduction
• Cohabitation agreements
• Contested and uncontested divorces
• Divorce mediation
• Domestic violence and harassment applications (Protection Orders)
• Enforcement of maintenance order and recovery of arrear maintenance
• Maintenance application
• Parenting plans
• Surrogacy agreements
• Variations of maintenance Agreements

At STBB we believe that it is vital – to ensure a smooth, quick and uncomplicated resolution of family law issues – to ensure that you have a skilled attorney to represent you in matters concerning your divorce, as there are many consequences of divorce that you may not be aware of or may underestimate. Areas that are often problematic include obtaining immediate payment from pension funds, ongoing contact and access arrangements in respect of minors, and updating of maintenance agreements.

Furthermore, other areas where assistance may be required include spousal abuse and domestic violence. We are able to assist with protective orders and advise on the process involved.

We are also able to provide advice and assistance with contracts for adoption and surrogacy and assist with parenting plans.

We can assist and provide valuable information and efficient assistance with all of the above.

WHY ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS ARE IMPORTANT

Our law determines that if you get married without having entered into an antenuptial contract before the wedding, you are automatically married in community of property. Accordingly, the assets and liabilities of both spouses become part of their joint estate, with shared responsibilities and decision-making.

Simply agreeing to the contrary with a spouse may constitute a valid agreement between the spouses, but will not be enforceable against third parties.

If spouses want to address the risk of exposure to each other’s long term financial well-being, it is necessary to do so before the marriage, in an antenuptial contract.

An antenuptial contract is an agreement signed before the marriage by parties who intend to marry each other out of community of property, in other words, each person wishes to retain ownership of his or her own assets as opposed to pooling the assets to form one communal estate.

The decision not to enter into an antenuptial contract may have serious consequences, both during the course of the marriage and in the event of its dissolution (whether on death or divorce) and it is therefore advisable to obtain proper advice well before entering into a marriage.


AMENDING ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS

Choosing a spouse is one of the most important choices you will ever make; but you have another very important choice to make – the right matrimonial property system. It may seem like a less romantic choice than say, your honeymoon destination, but it is no less important as, while changing it postnuptially is absolutely possible, it is also complicated, time consuming and costly. Section 21(1) of the Matrimonial Property Act provides that spouses may apply jointly to the High Court for leave to change their matrimonial property system. The requirements for such an application are:

  • The applicant must provide sound reasons for the proposed change.
  • Notice of the intended order must be given to all creditors at least two weeks prior to the matter being heard in court.
  • The applicants must show convincing proof that no other person will be prejudiced by the proposed change.
  • Notice of the change of matrimonial property system must be published in the Government Gazette and two local newspapers.
  • The application must also be served on Deeds Office.

Even if all these requirements are met, the court has a discretion whether or not to grant such an application and may still refuse to do so.

BREACH OF ENGAGEMENT

Historically, the termination of an engagement could give rise to a claim for damages (actual damages and prospective damages) based on breach of contract, if there was no just cause for ending the engagement.

Furthermore, it can give rise to a claim for sentimental damages based on actio iniuriarum. Sentimental damages requires that the party who breached the engagement acted wrongfully and that the reputation of the other party was tarnished.

In 2010, the case of Van Jaarsveld v Bridges addressed a claim for breach of promise to marry, and the effects thereof. The judge commented that he believes the time has come to recognise that the historic approach to an engagement is outdated, the law relating to breach of promise must be reconsidered and it must be tested against the prevailing norms of society. Due to the persuasive comments of the aforementioned judgment, it will difficult to succeed with a claim for prospective losses due to breach of promise to marry. In separate judgments in the Western Cape High Court and the South Gauteng High Court, it was found that a claim for prospective damages based on breach of promise is no longer permissible.

In order to be successful with a claim for actual damages, you would have to show that the damages suffered where a direct result of the breach of promise and not merely due to breach of a separate agreement reached between the parties during their engagement.
MARRIAGE IN COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY

This is South Africa’s default matrimonial property regime and it means that everything that was brought into the marriage or acquired during the marriage automatically falls in your joint estate. There are certain exceptions though, such as inheritances, which may be specifically excluded in terms of the will of the deceased.

A person married in community of property will require his or her spouse’s consent prior to certain transactions being concluded. For example, in terms of the Matrimonial Property Act, a spouse married in community of property shall not without the written consent of the other spouse alienate or mortgage any immovable property forming part of the joint estate or bind himself as surety.

Not all transactions require written consent from the other spouse. For example, when a you pledge or otherwise burden any furniture or other effects of the common household forming part of the joint estate or receive any money due or accruing to that other spouse or the joint estate by way of remuneration, earnings, bonus, allowance, royalty, pension or gratuity, the Matrimonial Property Act requires the other spouse’s consent, but such consent does not have to be in writing.

MARRIAGE OUT OF COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY WITHOUT THE ACCRUAL SYSTEM

If persons enter into a marriage out of community of property, their estates remain separate throughout the marriage. There are two variations of this, being a marriage out of community of property with accrual, and one without accrual. In both these variations, the spouses have contractual independence.

This contract is often understood as “What’s his is his, and what’s mine is mine”, which is almost correct. It is however closer to the truth to explain it as “you keep what you brought into the marriage, and you keep what you earn during the marriage”. More importantly however, is that the marriage partners have contractual independence. They do not need each other’s signatures on contracts; they own property and can deal with that property independently and without consulting or co-operating with each other. They can dispose of their property by way of sale, donation or bequeath it in their will – without prior reference to the other party.

The system is most useful where one of the partners has a high-risk, high-income lifestyle: the assets of the other partner are protected from negative consequences of that lifestyle.

The concern with this system is that it does not automatically assure a financially weaker partner of any share in the proprietary benefits of the marriage and this can become more serious the longer the marriage continues. Normally, partners to this type of marriage would take care of these issues by way of their wills, which would be regularly updated, and by way of other agreements between them regarding the share and control of assets in the marriage. For example, they may decide that notwithstanding the marriage out of community of property, they will own certain assets (like the matrimonial home) jointly.

This system is most suitable, as mentioned above, in cases where partners need greater independence, or enter into the marriage already having children, or are older and may have plans to bequeath parts of their estates to other people on their deaths.

MARRIAGE OUT OF COMMUNITY OF PROPERTY WITH THE ACCRUAL SYSTEM

This type of antenuptial contract was created to rectify some of the injustices of the old style contract: it takes into account the fact that the partners may start out in life fairly equal in wealth, but at some stage one of them stops working (say, to have children), while the other keeps growing his or her estate by earning an income. Under a marriage out of community excluding the accrual system, one partner can be left much richer than the other, and the poorer partner is pretty much at the mercy of the richer partner.

A practical example of including the accrual system would be the following: A and B married out of community of property and included the accrual system in their antenuptial contract. The property that A owned before his marriage (unless it was specifically excluded from the accrual) will remain A’s own asset. But on dissolution of the marriage (on divorce or death), the increase in value of the property will be part of A’s accrual and will be included when an assessment is made to equalize the accrual between A and B’s estates. If A acquired the property during the marriage, the same principle applies: the value of A’s estate is then increased by the value of the property and this forms part of the accrual, which is shared between the spouses. Effectively, half the difference in value between their separate estates accrues to the smaller estate when the marriage ends.

This is a modern option, only having come into existence in South Africa in 1984. The prospective partners sign an antenuptial contract and the contract provides that when the marriage ends, a calculation will be done to make sure each party shares equally in the joint accrual. The contract does not operate any differently from the marriage out of community excluding the accrual during the existence of the marriage. The difference lies only in what happens when the marriage ends. This option requires each of the prospective partners to take an inventory of their estates as at the date of entering into the marriage. The value of this inventory is called your commencement value. At the end of the marriage, each partner (or the partner’s executor) takes an inventory and values that inventory again. This is called the final value. The commencement value is then adjusted to allow for inflation according to the consumer price index, and the adjusted commencement value is deducted from the final value.

The result is then compared with the result of the same calculation in the other partner’s estate. The lesser result is then subtracted from the greater result, the difference is divided by half, and that half is then transferred (“paid”) from the greater estate to the lesser estate. That figure is, in fact, the accrual.

These are the basic principles, but it can be more complicated. Parties can, for example, exclude certain assets from the accrual by naming them specifically when they sign the contract. These assets may be things which they own at that stage, or which they expect to acquire afterwards. In addition, there are certain classes of assets, which by law is automatically excluded from the accrual calculation, namely inheritances and money awarded as personal injury damages. The first class (inheritances) speaks for itself. As for the second class, think of it like this: it’s your pain, so it’s your money.

MARRIAGES IN TERMS OF THE CIVIL UNION ACT

The Civil Union Act came into effect in November 2006. It was a ground-breaking piece of legislation in that it granted same sex married couples the same rights, protection and status as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples in a civil marriage. South Africa, at the time, thereby became the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to legalize same sex marriage.

Civil unions are modelled parallel to other civil marriages and the legal consequences flowing from the union are equivalent to those flowing from heterosexual marriages: just as heterosexual couples would be married either in community of property or out of community of property (with or without accrual), the same options are available to same sex spouses that enter into a civil union in terms of the Civil Union Act.

CUSTOMARY MARRIAGES

A customary marriage is a marriage concluded in terms of customary law. Customary marriages are regulated in terms of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998.

If prior to the commencement of the Act, parties were in an existing, validly concluded customary marriage, that customary marriage is recognised under the Act. The same applies for a person who is a spouse in more than one validly concluded customary marriage before the commencement of the Act.

For a customary marriage entered into after the commencement of the Act to be valid, both parties must be at least eighteen years old; both parties must consent to the marriage and the marriage must be negotiated and entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law.

A customary marriage entered into after the commencement of the Act will automatically be in community of property, unless the spouses concluded an antenuptial contract prior to getting married.

According to section 7(6) of the Act, a husband in an existing customary marriage who wishes to enter into a further customary marriage must apply to the Court to approve a written contract, which will regulate the matrimonial property regime of his subsequent customary marriages.

MUSLIM MARRIAGES

Spouses married in terms of Muslim rites do not receive the same rights, protection and status as those spouses who concluded a civil marriage. Therefore, hundreds of Muslim Imams are registered as marriage officers under section 3 of the Marriage Act and Muslims entering into a religious marriage before such an Imam may elect to simultaneously register their civil marriage. The civil marriage can be concluded in community of property or out of community of property with or without the accrual. During 2018 the Cape Town High Court ordered that the legislature has two years to address the lack of recognition of Muslim marriages. Until then, the aforementioned status quo remains unchanged.

COMMON LAW MARRIAGE?

South African law does not recognise the concept of a “common law marriage”. This means that no amount of time spent living with another person will convert that cohabitation relationship into a marriage. Many people are nonetheless under the mistaken belief that such “common law marriages” are legally recognised and that legal rights and duties automatically flow from the relationship. Although our Courts have, in specific instances, recognised that certain reciprocal duties flow from such relationships, it is not a given. Partners in such relationships are urged to conclude a ‘domestic partnership agreement’, to safeguard their investment in the relationship.

DEBT IN TERMS OF YOUR MARITAL PROPERTY REGIME

I’m married out of community of property so I’m not affected by my spouse’s sequestration, right? Wrong!

Not only the spouse of a person married out of community of property, but also a spouse married according to any law or custom, and even those who are unmarried but have been living together as husband and wife for some years, can be subjected to the consequences of the other party’s insolvency.

The Insolvency Act empowers the Trustee to deal with the property of the solvent party as if it belongs to the insolvent’s estate and both parties’ assets will initially vest in the Trustee. Only on application by the solvent spouse to the Trustee, can assets belonging to the solvent spouse be released to that spouse. A solvent spouse is therefore unable to transfer property belonging to him or her before it has been released by the insolvent’s Trustee.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

In terms of South African law, there are two grounds for divorce, the most common of which is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There are a number of reasons why this can happen, including that for a substantial period you and your spouse have not been living together as a married couple; or either party has committed adultery with the effect that you strongly believe that you cannot continue with the marital relationship; or communication between you and your spouse has broken down and you no longer love each other; or the presence of any physical, verbal, alcohol or drug abuse within the marriage.

If one spouse can show that a marriage has irretrievably broken down, then a Court will grant the divorce order. It is therefore irrelevant whether or not your spouse agrees to divorce: if you can show the Court that the marriage relationship with your spouse has failed and the Court is satisfied that there is no reasonable possibility that you and your spouse can be reconciled, then the Court will grant you the order.

The second ground for a divorce is the mental illness or continuous unconsciousness of a spouse. In such an instance you will have to prove that for a certain prescribed time period, your spouse was admitted to, or still is, in a mental institution; or that your spouse is in a state of continuous unconsciousness.

UNCONTESTED DIVORCES

When two spouses agree to terminate their marriage by way of divorce, the process does not always have to be as daunting as it appears. An uncontested divorce is where the spouse on whom the divorce summons was served (the Defendant) does not defend the matter within the prescribed period or where the parties entered into a settlement agreement regulating the terms of the divorce.

On the hearing day, the party who initiated the process (the Plaintiff) must appear in Court essentially in order to confirm to the Court the allegations made in the summons. If the judge is satisfied that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, a divorce order will be granted, incorporating the settlement agreement (if there is one).

The process involved with finalising a divorce on an uncontested basis is quicker and more cost effective than the litigation involved with a contested divorce.

In order to reach an agreement on the terms of the divorce, spouses must, amongst other things, take into account the following:

  • If there are minor children involved, with whom will they live post-divorce, what arrangements will be made to ensure acceptable contact between the minor children and the other spouse, and what arrangements will be made with regard to child maintenance?
  • Does one of the spouses require spousal maintenance, and if so, to what extent and for how long?
  • How will assets and liabilities be dealt with? Spouses may divide their assets and liabilities as they deem fit, and the division may deviate from the distribution required in terms of their marriage regime, provided that the terms of the settlement are enforceable, legal, and not against public policy.

CONTESTED DIVORCE

After proper consultation with you and after obtaining the necessary documentation from your, your attorney will contact your spouse or his/her legal representative in order to commence settlement negotiations, if it is appropriate given the facts of your matter. In this regard your attorney’s guidance is fundamental to ensure a fair and workable solution for you, your spouse and your children.

Reaching a settlement agreement often takes time, since it needs to address your immediate future needs as well as long-term concerns. As soon as a settlement agreement is reached, your attorney will request a hearing date from the Court and the matter will be uncontested.

If, however, you and your spouse still disagree on the terms of your divorce settlement, then the divorce action is said to be ‘contested’ and may lead to a trial.

A trial can span several days in Court to allow witnesses for both sides to come forward and testify in support of the relevant spouse’s claims. After hearing and assessing the evidence, the Court will make a finding for the parties.

Unfortunately, running a matter to trial is a costly exercise and it can take a couple of years before your matter is heard in court due to all the procedural requirements that must be met and the backlog of the courts.

JURISDICTION AND DOMICILE

In South African law, the patrimonial consequences of a marriage is governed by the husband’s domicile at the time the wedding ceremony is concluded. Therefore, if the husband was domiciled in South Africa at the time of the marriage, the patrimonial consequences of the marriage will be governed by South African law, irrespective of where you got married. The marriage will thus be in community of property, unless the spouses entered into an antenuptial contract beforehand.

Domicile is not only relevant when it comes to determining what country’s legislation will be applicable, but it is also relevant when determining what court has jurisdiction to finalise the divorce. In terms of the Divorce Act, any court has jurisdiction to hear the matter if at least one of the parties are domiciled within the court’s jurisdiction when the matter is instituted or if at least one of the parties are ordinarily resident within the area of jurisdiction of the court and has been so resident for a period of 12 months.

A person is domiciled in the place where he or she intends to settle for a undefined period of time or in the country that the person considers to be his or her permanent home. The question of where a person is domiciled is thus a subjective one. A person’s place of birth will be your domicile of origin and it will remain your domicile until you elect to change it.

VOID AND VOIDABLE MARRIAGES

Void marriages are those that are invalid from the start. For example, a marriage will be void if the marriage officer, who solemnized the marriage, did not have the legal capacity to do so; where one of the parties are already married at the time of the conclusion of the marriage; or where the marriage was concluded without witnesses.

You do not have to approach the court to declare a marriage void, however in certain circumstances it might be advisable for legal certainty. A void marriage does not attract any legal consequences and does not affect a person’s status.

However, where one or both of the parties are unaware of the fact that they entered into a void marriage and one or both of them believed, in good faith, that they were entering into a valid marriage, the marriage may be regarded as a putative marriage, which, although the marriage itself is void, it may attract certain limited legal consequences.

On the other hand, a marriage will be voidable if, at the time of the conclusion of the marriage, there were grounds that will justify the marriage being declared void. A voidable marriage will be valid until it is declared void by a court and it will attract legal consequences.

A marriage will be voidable if, amongst other things, one of the spouses was a minor at the time of the conclusion of the marriage and the prescribed consents were not obtained; one of the spouses entered into the marriage under duress; at the time of the conclusion of the marriage the wife was pregnant with third party’s child and the other spouse was unaware thereof; or, the marriage was entered into based on a fraudulent misrepresentation e.g. where a spouse misled the other by using a fraudulent identity.

UPDATING YOUR WILL AFTER YOUR DIVORCE

An important aspect to consider when going through a divorce or after a divorce is whether or not your existing will correctly reflects your wishes.

If your former spouse is still the beneficiary of your will signed prior to the dissolution of your marriage, and you pass away within three months of the date on which your divorce is made final by the court, then in terms of Section 2B of the Wills Act, he/she will be disqualified from inheriting your assets.

However, if your death occurs after the expiry of the said three-month period and if you have not yet changed your will in the meantime, then your former spouse will be entitled to inherit.

On the presumption that most divorced spouses would not want their estate to devolve upon their former spouse, it is essential to review your will and to make the changes required to correct this situation.
PROPERTY TRANSFERS POST DIVORCE

Often parties are faced with having to transfer a property after a divorce, either to a third party or to one of the ex-spouses.

In instances where the Divorce Order provides that a property must be sold, the parties must jointly appoint an estate agent or agents to market and sell the property. Once the property has been sold, the transfer will be referred to a conveyancer to attend to and the general rule is that the Sellers appoint the conveyancer. A sale of this nature is similar to any normal sale and transfer of a property.

However, if the Divorce Order provides that one of the parties must take transfer of the other party’s share in the property, the process that must be followed is slightly different, depending on the parties’ marriage regime.

If the parties were married out of community of property (with or without the accrual), the one party’s share in the property must be transferred to the other party by way of a formal transfer but if the parties were married in community of property, the Deeds Registries Act makes provision for an endorsement to be made on the Title Deed of the property to the effect that the one spouse shall be entitled to deal with the property as if he/she has taken formal transfer thereof.

A conveyancer must be appointed to attend to either the half share transfer or the application for endorsement.

TRANSFER DUTY AND CAPITAL GAINS TAX IMPLICATIONS OF DIVORCE TRANSFERS

Where a party acquires sole ownership of the whole or a portion of the property registered in the name of his or her divorced spouse in terms of a Divorce Order, the transaction is exempt from transfer duty. The conveyancer attending to the transfer or title deed endorsement would still have to obtain a transfer duty exemption certificate from SARS prior to the transfer being lodged at the Deeds Office.

This exemption applies only where the spouse held sole ownership in his or her personal capacity.

The party transferring a property to a spouse pursuant to a Divorce Order will also not be liable to pay Capital Gains Tax (CGT), as a disposal of this nature is subject to a rollover, which means that the CGT liability is deferred to a later stage. The spouse acquiring the property may be liable to pay CGT in the future if the property is transferred to a third party.

PENSION PAY-OUTS POST DIVORCE

A divorce settlement agreement can include a provision whereby one spouse is awarded a share in the benefits of the other spouse’s pension. Previously the receiving spouse had to wait for the other spouse to retire before being able to claim payment of the share in the ex-spouse’s pension.

However, the Pension Funds Act was since amended to allow the receiving spouse immediate access to the ex-spouse’s pension, meaning you can claim payment of a share in your spouse’s pension interest on the date of divorce. Certain pension funds are, however, not subject to this change in legislation. This provision can be applied retrospectively. Therefore, the position is now that even if you divorced prior to the amendment of the Pension Fund Act and was awarded a share in your ex-spouse’s pension interest in the settlement agreement, you may be eligible to receive payment of the pension interest immediately. Much depends on the wording of the settlement order.

The spouse receiving the payment from the pension fund will be tax on the amount that is being paid out, in accordance with the applicable table.
DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS AND COHABITATION AGREEMENTS

It is common to enter into a permanent relationship with another person (whether of the same or opposite sex) with the intention of living together as married persons, without actually getting married. There is currently limited legal protection afforded to partners in such relationships and were the relationship terminates, a party may face dire consequences due to the fact that there was no prior agreement with regard to assets, maintenance and the like.

The only way to ensure that both parties are protected if the relationship breaks down, is for them to enter into an agreement in which they regulate their affairs – often referred to as a ‘domestic partnership agreement’ or “cohabitation agreement”. This agreement will record the expectations that each partner may have with regard to his/her financial contribution to the joint household and assets acquired individually or jointly, and is an opportunity to iron out concerns that may otherwise arise in future such as the division of movable and/or immovable property and maintenance for either party. A cohabitation agreement cannot contain any provisions that are illegal or contrary to public policy.

Such an agreement is only enforceable between the parties thereto and is not binding on third parties, as in the case of civil marriages.

A BILL FOR LIFE PARTNERS

In South Africa, regardless of the duration of cohabitation, the parties in a permanent cohabitation relationship do not attain rights and responsibilities similar to that of a married couple. There is currently a draft Domestic Partnerships Bill, which was published in 2008. However, it has not been brought into effect yet.

The Bill aims to regulate the position of persons who live together outside of a legally valid marriage or civil union. However, it was promulgated in 2008 already and little has happened since. It is therefore uncertain, if and when it will be enacted into law. If the day comes, it will bring significant change in the lives of partners in domestic partnerships.
RIGHTS OF MINOR CHILDREN

According to section 28(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa every child has a right to a name and nationality, every child has the right to family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment; every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services; every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation; every child has the right to be protected from exploitation in labour practices and from being expected to render services or perform work that is inappropriate for the child’s age or put him/her at risk; every child has the right not to be detained, unless as a last resort; every child has the right to have a legal practitioner assigned to them by the state, at state expense, in civil proceedings affecting them, if substantial injustice would otherwise result and every child has the right to be protected during armed conflict.

Furthermore, Section 28(2) of the Constitution states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

These rights are afforded to a child in order to protect them, as children are part of the most vulnerable members of society. The Children’s Act 38 of 2005 was promulgated partly to give effect to the rights of children as set out in the Constitution.

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