Tag Archives: Parties

True Love, or Easy Paycheck?


The issues that are dealt with in this article is whether a partner is entitled to maintenance from the other partner in terms of a Divorce Order if the partner that is asking for maintenance, is living with / or has a new relationship, where that partner is already maintaining him / her. We will deal with case law and the Maintenance Act 99 of 1998.

You’re soon to be ex-wife has moved on and is now happily living with a new partner. They are in a stable, supportive relationship and her new partner doesn’t seem short of cash. Everyone is living happily ever after, so why should you pay maintenance to your ex-wife?

The judgment of Harlech-Jones v Harlech-Jones [2012] ZASCA 19 has a reference. The issue, in this case, is whether a husband is obliged to pay maintenance to his former wife, who is involved in a relationship with another man, after divorce.

The duty of support

Neither spouse has a statutory right to maintenance. The language in the Divorce Act is clearly discretionary and the ex-spouse seeking an award for maintenance has no right as such. The court will consider the following factors before deciding whether to award spousal maintenance:

  1. The existing or prospective means of each party
  2. Their respective earning capacities
  3. Their financial needs and obligations
  4. Their age
  5. The duration of the marriage
  6. Their standard of living prior to the divorce
  7. Their conduct, if relevant, to the breakdown of the marriage
  8. An order for the division of assets
  9. Any other factor which in the court`s opinion, should be taken into account.

The discretionary power of the court to make a maintenance award includes the power to make no award at all. Our law favours the ‘clean break’ principle, which basically means that after a divorce the parties should become economically independent of each other as soon as possible.

Harlech-Jones v Harlech-Jones [2012] ZASCA 19

Through a long line of cases dealing exclusively with maintenance pendent elite (awaiting litigation), it has become customary not to award maintenance to a spouse who is living in a permanent relationship with another partner.

As mentioned above, the Supreme Court of Appeal  gave an interesting judgment in the matter of Harlech-Jones v Harlech-Jones [2012] ZASCA 19. The question raised in this matter was inter alia whether it would be against public policy for a man to pay maintenance to his wife while she is living with another man.

The parties, who were married to each other in December 1972, were divorced in January 2011, after many years living apart and many legal battles. In terms of the Divorce Order, the Appellant (the former husband) was ordered to pay the Respondent the sum of R2 000-00 per month as maintenance with effect from 1 February 2011. With the leave of the High Court, the Appellant then appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal solely against the maintenance order.

By the time the Divorce Order was granted, both parties had formed relationships with other partners, and the Respondent had been living for some three years with another man who fully and unconditionally maintained her.

Relying upon judgments such as Dodo v Dodo 1990 (2) SA 77 (W) at 89G; Carstens v Carstens 1985 (2) SA 351 (SE) at 353F; SP v HP 2009 (5) SA 223 (O) , it was argued that it would be against public policy for a woman to be supported by two men at the same time.

The court was of the opinion that while there are no doubt members of society who would endorse that view, it rather speaks of values from times past and the court was of the opinion that in the modern, more liberal age in which we live, public policy demands that a person who cohabits with another should not for that reason alone, be barred from claiming maintenance from his or her spouse.

However, in light of facts of the present case, where the Respondent was being fully maintained by the man with whom she had been living with for years, the Respondent failed to show that she was entitled to receive maintenance from her former husband.  The Appeal therefore succeeded, and the maintenance order was set aside.

Therefore, if you feel that you are currently paying your ex-partner maintenance which he / she do not deserve, contact your legal representative and take back the money that you worked so hard to obtain!

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.


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)