Category Archives: Marriage

CAN BREAKING-OFF AN ENGAGEMENT PROMPT LEGAL ACTION?

B4Once a couple has become engaged, you could say that they have concluded a verbal contract to get married. From that point, up until the marriage, the couple would be committed to getting married, as well as the planning and preparation leading up to it. However, in some instances, one of those in the relationship might decide to break off the engagement. This might seem unimportant, but what if the couple had gone to great lengths to plan the wedding and even went as far as changing lifestyles in the expectation of getting married. Would the person being left behind be able to sue for damages lost?

Does our law mention engagement?

Our common law has, over the years, recognised the principle that the aggrieved party has a claim for breach of promise. Traditionally this claim comprises two parts, namely:

  1. The delictual claim which the aggrieved party would have under the action injuriarum for contumelia, in other words, damages for the humiliation caused as a result of the break-up of the relationship; and
  2. The contractual claim for the actual financial loss suffered by the aggrieved party as a result of the break-up of the relationship of the parties.

In the Supreme Court of Appeal case Van Jaarsveld vs Bridges (2010), it was found that no claim in South African law exists other than actual expenses incurred in the planning and preparation of the marriage.

The judgement draws attention to a court’s right and more importantly, duty to develop the common law, taking into account the interests of justice and at the same time to promote the spirit of the Bill of Rights.

ES Cloete vs A Maritz (2013) WCH

The question whether or not the claim for breach of promise is a valid cause of action in South African law was once again considered in the Western Cape High Court. In this Court, Judge Robert Henney was the presiding Judge in the matter of ES Cloete vs A Maritz.

Miss Cloete claimed that Mr Maritz proposed formally to her in Namibia on the 9th February 1999 with an engagement ring, and she accepted. The relationship was turbulent and a decade later Maritz called off the engagement and the intended wedding. Cloete instituted action against Maritz and alleged that Maritz’s refusal to marry her amounted to a repudiation of the agreement which they had reached 10 years earlier. In his judgment, Judge R Henney said: “Clearly, to hold a party accountable on a rigid contractual footing, where such a party fails to abide by a promise to marry does not reflect the changed mores, morals or public interest of today.”

The judge also said: “As pointed out by Sinclair, The Law of Marriage Vol 1 (1996), to hold a party liable for contractual damages for breach of promise may in fact lead parties to enter into marriages they do not in good conscience want to enter into, purely due to the fear of being faced with such a claim.”

Conclusion

Divorce, which in earlier days was only available in the event of adultery or desertion, is now available in the event of an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There is no reason why a just cause for ending an engagement should not likewise include the lack of desire to marry the particular person, irrespective of the ‘guilt’ of the latter.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS: WITH OR WITHOUT THE ACCRUAL SYSTEM?

B3If you don’t have an ANC, you are automatically married in community of property. This means that there is one estate between a husband and a wife. Everything is shared equally between spouses, which includes debts. However, with an antenuptial contract, the estates of each spouse remain separate. The difference comes with the addition of the accrual system.

What is an antenuptial contract?

An ANC determines whether a marriage will be out of community of property with/without the accrual system. It must be signed by the persons entering into a marriage, two witnesses and a notary public, and it must be registered in the Deeds Registries office within the prescribed time period.

What is the accrual system?

The accrual system is a formula that is used to calculate how much the spouse with the larger estate must pay the smaller estate if the marriage comes to an end through death or divorce. Only property acquired during the marriage can be considered when calculating the accrual.

  • If there is no accrual system, then the spouses have their own estates which contain property and debts acquired prior to and during the marriage – nothing is shared.
  • The underlying philosophy of the accrual system is that each spouse is entitled to take out the asset value that he or she brought into the marriage, and then they share what they have built up together.
  • The accrual system only applies if the marriage ends – either by divorce or death. You cannot claim your share of the joint estate while you’re still married.

Whether or not you decide to include the accrual system in your antenuptial contract depends on the couple. Some may see the relevance while others do not.

It’s important that both of you consult the lawyer who’s drawing up the ANC because both spouses need to be fully aware of the consequences. It’s also important to see someone who’s neutral, and who can mediate what goes into your ANC, because emotions can cloud your judgment, and it can be a stressful negotiation if one spouse has a lot of assets and the other doesn’t, for example.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

ANTENUPTIAL CONTRACTS: CAN I GET ONE AFTER MARRIAGE?

B2Couples who are interested in an antenuptial contract often make the decision to get one before they are married. That is the ideal scenario. However, some couples may have already gotten married in community of property, and later decide to change to another form of marriage contract.

Can it be done?

The Matrimonial Property Act allows a husband and wife to apply jointly to court for leave to change the matrimonial property system which applies to their marriage.

  1. According to South African law, the parties who wish to become married out of community of property must enter into an antenuptial contract prior to the marriage ceremony being concluded.
  2. If they fail to do so then they are automatically married in community of property. Of course, many people are unaware of this provision and should be able to satisfy the court that it should change their matrimonial property system if it was their express intention that they intended to be married out of community of property.

What are the requirements?

In order for the parties to change their matrimonial property system, the act mentions the following requirements:

  1. There must be sound reasons for the proposed change.
  2. The Act requires that notice of the parties’ intention to change their matrimonial property regime must be given to the Registrar of Deeds, must be published in the Government Gazette and two local newspapers at least two weeks prior to the date on which the application will be heard and must be given by certified post to all the known creditors of the spouses.
  3. The court must be satisfied that no other person will be prejudiced by the proposed change. The court must be satisfied that the rights of creditors of the parties must be preserved in the proposed contract so the application must contain sufficient information about the parties’ assets and liabilities to enable the court to ascertain whether or not there are sound reasons for the proposed change and whether or not any particular person will be prejudiced by the change.

What is the downside?

The downside is that the application is expensive because you and your spouse have to apply to the High Court on notice to the Registrar of Deeds and all known creditors, to be granted leave to sign a Notarial Contract having the effect of a postnuptial contract. You must also have solid grounds for wanting to switch to an antenuptial contract. Therefore, it’s not something you can do on a whim.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)