Category Archives: Marriage

Antenuptial contracts: Can I get one after marriage?

Couples 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)

Antenuptial contracts: With or without the accrual system?

If 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)

Can breaking-off an engagement prompt legal action?

Once 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)

Unopposed and opposed divorce: What’s the difference?

My spouse said that he/she won’t ‘give me a divorce’. What can I do? Your spouse can oppose the divorce, but it is the Court that grants a divorce, not your spouse. If you convince the court that the marital relationship has irretrievably broken down, the court can grant a decree of divorce even if your spouse does not want to get divorced.

There is a process, called a ‘rule 58’ application, whereby you can ask the court to give an order regarding the care of and access to the children and maintenance pending the finalisation of the divorce. You can even ask for a contribution to your legal costs.

How much does it cost?

In the case of an unopposed divorce (i.e. there is no dispute between yourself and your spouse about the divorce or what should happen), your fees are likely to be limited to the Sheriff’s fees and minor expenses for transport, photocopies, etc. Sheriff’s fees can vary widely, depending on the distance he has to travel and how many attempts he has to make at serving pleadings on the opposing party, but generally these fees would be a few hundred rand. Where a divorce is opposed, the costs become unpredictable and entirely dependant on the specifics of the case.

How long does it take?

Where a divorce is unopposed and there are no complications or children involved, it can sometimes be finalised in as little as four weeks.

Where a divorce is opposed, it can easily take two to three years, or more. In most cases, however, divorces get settled before the parties have to go to Court – even where the divorce started out as an opposed divorce. As soon as the parties in an opposed divorce reach a settlement agreement and the divorce becomes unopposed, it can again be possible to finalise the divorce in as little as four weeks.

What you need to do

Before you approach the Court to start divorce proceedings, you will should get certified copies of as many of the following documents as you can:

  1. Your identity document
  2. Your Ante-Nuptial Agreement, if any
  3. The children’s births certificates, if any and
  4. Your marriage certificate

Also make sure you have the following information handy:

  1. Your full names, surname, identity number, occupation and place of residence
  2. Your spouse’s full names, surname, identity number, occupation and place of residence
  3. Date when you got married and where the marriage took place
  4. Children’s full names, surnames, identity numbers and
  5. Comprehensive details of any funds (such as pension funds, retirement annuities and provident funds) which you or your spouse belongs to.

You may institute divorce proceedings in either a High Court or Magistrates’ Court (Regional Court), but where the parties are representing themselves in a simple divorce, they should approach the Regional Court.

Reference:

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)

When international marriage meets the law

A South Africa citizen decides that he is going to study in England after leaving school. During this time abroad he meets the love of his life, who happens to be a British citizen. Both parties decide they want to marry each other and are now unsure if the marriage will be valid once they return back to South Africa.

What law governs marriage?

Men and women of different nationalities may fall in love and marry in the country where they happen to reside. Generally speaking, the formal validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where the marriage was solemnized. This is based on the common law doctrine of the law of the country were the marriage was solemnized (lex loci celebrationis).

This rule is also subject to the fraud of the law (fraus legis) doctrine that will prevent parties from deliberately solemnizing their marriage elsewhere to escape some essential requirements of the law of the place of a party’s dwelling house (lex domicilii).

Evading the law

Kassim v Ghumran & another 1981 Zimbabwe LR 22, may be considered more fully to illustrate the principle of evasion. Here Ghumran and Kassim had eloped from Zimbabwe to Malawi in order to marry. Kassim was only 15 years old and the consent of her parents, which was not obtained, was required for her marriage under the law of Zimbabwe. Kassim’s father sought an order declaring that the Malawian Marriage is void. The court held that where one or both parties were domiciled in the area of the court and had their marriage deliberately solemnized elsewhere to escape an essential requirement of the lex domicilii. Therefore, they deliberately evaded the law.

The principle of public policy

The last exception to the lex loci celebrationis is the principle of public policy. The marriage will be against public policy if it offends fundamental moral principles of that society. Since the marriage relationship is one of the fundamental institutions of our society, it follows, none the less, that public policy will raise its head here. It does so primarily in two broad areas; marriages tainted by incest, want of age, or lack of consent and polygamous marriages. The consensus seems to be that the union of siblings (whether of half or full blood) and the union of any blood relatives in the direct line will be against public policy (contra bonis mores).

Conclusion

Their marriage will be valid in South Africa if they complied with the above-mentioned international private law principles and the marriage was legally concluded in accordance with the laws of England. It is also important to note that the legal consequences of the marriage will be governed by different international private law principles and the validity of the marriage will be determined according to the above-mentioned principles.

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)

How to apply for spousal maintenance?

Maintenance is the obligation to provide another person, for example a minor, with housing, food, clothing, education and medical care, or with the means that are necessary for providing the person with these essentials. This legal duty to maintain is called ‘the duty to maintain’ or ‘the duty to support’.

The duty to maintain is based on blood relationship, adoption, or the fact that the parties are married to each other.

An application for maintenance can be made against a defendant (person who must pay maintenance) at any Maintenance Court (“court”) in the district where the complainant (person who applies for maintenance) or the child, on whose behalf maintenance is claimed, resides or works.

The parents, guardians and/or caregivers of a child can apply for maintenance on behalf of such a child.

What should a person take to court when applying for maintenance?

  1. Identity document of the complainant.
  2. Complainant’s contact details, such as telephone numbers and home and work addresses.
  3. If maintenance for a child is claimed, the birth certificate of that child.
  4. If maintenance for the spouse is claimed, the marriage certificate or divorce order where maintenance order was granted.
  5. A full list of expenses and any proof of same, such as receipts.
  6. The complainant’s payslip and proof of any other income.
  7. As much detail as possible regarding the defendant, such as telephone numbers, home and work addresses, list of known income and expenses, and so on.

What happens after the application has been made?

  1. The maintenance officer will inform the defendant of the application and will hold an informal enquiry with the complainant and defendant being present.
  2. The defendant must take any proof of his/her income and expenses to the informal enquiry.
  3. The purpose of the informal enquiry is to assist the complainant and the defendant in reaching a settlement.
  4. If a settlement is reached, an agreement will be entered into between the complainant and the defendant, which will be made an order of court.
  5. If a settlement cannot be reached, the maintenance officer will place the matter before court for a formal enquiry to be held.
  6. The court will consider the facts and evidence of the claim and decide, by way of a maintenance order, whether maintenance should be payable and the amount of such maintenance.
  7. The complainant and the defendant must both be present at the informal and formal enquiry, and will be allowed to have legal representation.
  8. If the defendant fails to appear at the formal enquiry in court, an order may be given in his/her absence.
  9. It will not be necessary for the complainant and/or defendant to appear in court if they consent in writing to the maintenance order being granted.

Reference

Justice.co.za
Legalwise.co.za

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)

Customary marriages and community of property

a4bSince the promulgation of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 120 of 1998, the position has changed in that customary marriages are now recognised in our law. A marriage that is valid in terms of customary law and was in existence at the time of commencement of the Act, is for all purposes recognised as a marriage in terms of the Act. In the case of a person being in more than one customary marriage, all valid customary marriages entered into before the commencement of the Act, are for all purposes recognised as valid marriages in terms of the Act.

This also means that customary marriages will fall under community of property. For a customary marriage not to fall under community of property, an ante nuptial contract must be in place.

What is a customary marriage?

  • It is a marriage entered into between a man and a woman, negotiated and celebrated according to the prevailing customary law in their community.
  • A customary marriage entered into before 15 November 2000 is recognised as a valid marriage, however, it will be regulated in terms of the specific traditions and customs applicable at the time the marriage was entered into.
  • A customary marriage entered into after 15 November 2000 is recognised as a valid marriage and will receive full legal protection irrespective of whether it is monogamous or polygamous.
  • A monogamous customary marriage will automatically be in community of property, unless it is stipulated otherwise in an ante nuptial contract.

In a polygamous marriage, the husband must apply to the High Court for permission to enter into such a marriage and provide the court with a written contract stating how the property in the marriages will be regulated (to protect the property interests of both the existing and prospective spouses).

Registering Customary Marriages

Customary marriages must be registered within three months of taking place. This can be done at any office of the Department of Home Affairs or through a designated traditional leader in areas where there are no Home Affairs offices.

The following people should present themselves at either a Home Affairs office or a traditional leader in order to register a customary marriage:

  • The two spouses (with copies of their valid identity books and a lobola agreement, if available).
  • At least one witness from the bride’s family.
  • At least one witness from the groom’s family.
  • And/or the representative of each of the families.

In the event that the spouses were minors (or one was a minor) at the time of the customary marriage, the parents should also be present when the request to register the marriage is made.

Reference:

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)

Do I need an antenuptial contract before marriage?

a2bAn antenuptial contract is an important document that, under South African law, determines whether your marriage will exist in community of property or out of community of property, with or without the accrual system.

An antenuptial contract offers a number of benefits:

    1. Preventing your intended marriage from automatically being in community of property
    2. Offering transparency in your relationship by recording the rights, duties and consequences (legal and proprietary) of your marriage
    3. Preventing unnecessary disputes with your spouse down the line

What is marriage in community of property

There is one estate between a husband and a wife. Property and debts acquired prior to or during the marriage are shared equally in undivided shares (50%). Both spouses are jointly liable to creditors.

What is an Antenuptial contract?

A contract entered into to regulate whether a marriage will be out of community of property with/without the accrual system. An ante nuptial contract 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.

The accrual system

In a marriage out of community of property WITHOUT the accrual system, the spouses have their own estates which contain property and debts acquired prior to and during the marriage (“what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”). Each spouse is separately liable to his/her creditors. Prior to the marriage, an ante nuptial contract must be entered into to indicate that the marriage will be out of community of property.

A marriage out of community of property WITH the accrual system is identical to a “marriage out of community of property” but the accrual system will be applicable. The accrual system is a formula that is used to calculate how much the larger estate must pay the smaller estate once the marriage comes to an end through death or divorce. Only property acquired during the marriage can be considered when calculating the accrual. The accrual system does not automatically apply and must be included in an ante nuptial contract.

Conclusion

After marriage, the terms of the antenuptial contract become irrevocable unless they are amended by an order of the Supreme Court or, in some cases, by a notarial contract which must be registered in a deeds registry.

Reference:

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)

A promise to marry

A5_bIn this article the legal consequences of breaking off an engagement will be discussed. Is it a contract, and if it is, can you institute a claim for damages due to a breach of this contract?

In order to enter into a valid engagement to be married the following requirements must be met:

  • Both parties must have the capacity to act, which generally means that parties must be older than 18 years or if they are minors, that they have the necessary consent from their guardians.
  • Both parties must voluntarily consent to the engagement. A material mistake, such as the identity of either of the parties, will render the engagement void. There must also be no misrepresentations made by either of the parties; in other words, where it would have resulted in the contract not being concluded, had the other party known the truth.
  • Both parties must be permitted by law to marry each other. For example, you may only be engaged to one party, unless a polygamous engagement applies under African Customary Law.
  • One may not marry a sibling.

It is important to note that there is no law in South Africa that requires an engagement before    marriage.

Once a date for the marriage has been determined, there is a reciprocal duty to marry on that date, unless the date is changed by mutual agreement. Further, if no date has been determined, it is presumed that the marriage will take place within a reasonable time. Nevertheless, either of the parties may terminate the engagement, which may or may not attract a claim for damages or return of gifts.

An engagement can be terminated in the following ways:

  • Marriage
  • Death of either parties
  • Mutual agreement
  • Withdrawal of parental consent
  • Breach of promise
  • Termination by one party that is justified and based on sound reasons

It is important to establish whether there is a just cause for cancellation. If there is, the engagement may be validly terminated. A reason such as sterility or criminal activity, if it was only brought to the attention of the other party after agreeing to marry, may provide enough grounds to break off the engagement. If both parties agree to terminate the engagement, all gifts given in anticipation of the marriage, including the engagement ring, must be returned.

If one party breaches the promise to marry without justifiable reasons, the innocent party can, according to our law, institute a claim for damages, provided that the losses were within the contemplation of the parties. The innocent party can claim expenses incurred in anticipation of the wedding, thus placing the innocent party in the financial position he or she would have been had the engagement never been entered into. Further, the innocent party may keep or claim back the engagement ring as part of costs incurred.

In the case of Van Jaarsveld v Bridges, the court decided that a party cannot successfully institute a claim for prospective losses on the basis of a breach of promise to marry, because an engagement is not an ordinary contract in the context of contractual damages and should therefore not be placed on a rigid contractual footing. This means that a party may not institute a claim for damages placing him or her in the position he would have been had they gone through with the marriage. Previous court judgements indicate that compensation will be awarded at the discretion of the court and that each case must be evaluated on the basis of its individual circumstances.

In conclusion, it is important to note that a promise to marry is an agreement which attracts legal consequences; therefore one should not be hasty when deciding to ask the big question.

Bibliography:

Van Jaarsveld v Bridges 2010 (4) SA 558 (SCA).

Cloete v Maritz 2013 (5) SA448 (WCC).

Bull v Taylor 1965 (4) SA 29 (A).

Georgina Guedes, 23 October 2013, Mail and Guardian, “Five fallacies about engagement rings”.

A Guide to Divorce and Separation in South Africa, “Engagement and the Law”.

Ronald & Bobroff, “The engagement”.

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)

Impact of divorce on validity of will

A1_b_newMost people think that they do not have a valid will, when in fact they do have a valid will. That document that you signed with your ex-spouse 10 years ago is still valid (if all formalities were met) unless you signed a new last will and testament in the meantime.

Yes, that means that your ex-spouse (if stipulated as such in your last will) will inherit your assets. The mere fact that you are divorced does not invalidate your last will. You need to make a new will and stipulate that all previous wills are revoked.

There is however one exception, should you pass away within three months after your divorce, the South African Law assumes that it was your intention to change your will to omit your ex-spouse. Your wishes in your will, excluding the requested made to your ex-spouse, will be adhered to.

Should you however pass away three months and 1 day after your divorce, with a will bequeathing everything to your ex-spouse; it will be assumed that it was your wish to, despite the divorce, that your ex-spouse should inherit your estate.

What happens when you remarried and did not change your will?  Your will is still valid (if all formalities were adhered to). Your current spouse will be entitled to half of the estate (if you were married in community of property) and will need to claim maintenance from your estate.  If his / her claim is not accepted if could lead to a lengthy and costly court case.

It is therefore advisable to change your will as soon as possible whenever your wishes or current situation changes. Do not be caught as the consequences could be disastrous.

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