Month: November 2015

Freedom of testation and maintenance claims

A4_BIs a testator entitled to disinherit a child and if so, will the child have a claim for maintenance against the estate?

Freedom of testation is the liberty of a testator to choose how to bequeath his/her estate, and govern how his/her property is transmitted after his/her death. The law of succession then, is at least in part concerned with the preservation of a testator’s wishes, even if it additionally serves a social function related to the family and economic structures of society. In principle South Africa propagates total freedom of testation.

The general approach in South African law is that agreements or clauses which attempt to limit freedom of testation are not enforceable. Further, once the testator’s wishes have been ascertained, a court is ordinarily bound to give effect to these wishes. Our baseline is allowing for much liberty and autonomy in the law of succession.

However, freedom of testation has never been unfettered. Both the common law and statutes, such as the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990, impose restrictions on the testator. Bequests which are manifestly illegal or contra bonos mores (against good morals) will be regarded as invalid. Further, spouses and children may be disinherited in terms of the will but they may still have a legitimate claim for maintenance against a testator’s estate which cannot be disregarded.

There is furthermore a presumption against disinheritance, and courts will usually prefer a softer construction of a testator’s will in this respect. This is based on an assumption that a parent is not likely to disinherit a child. However, it is important to note that if it is explicit or clear in a testator’s will that a child is disinherited, then this will not constitute an impermissible exercise of freedom of testation; rather, a testator is given the liberty to lawfully do so.

South Africa gives fairly broad freedom to testators. Testators can generally dispose of their estates as they desire, subject only to certain restrictions mentioned above. Further, testators are not required to give reasons for their decisions in this regard, and are not accountable to their families for testamentary choices.

Nonetheless, the parental duty to maintain children will pass to the estate upon death, as confirmed in Carelse v Estate De Vries (1906) 23 SC 532. The minor child’s claim for maintenance is endorsed as settled law and a common law restriction on freedom of testation.

It should be noted that the child’s claim for maintenance and education is not to be confused with a legitimate portion as it does not entitle a minor to a set portion of the estate or, put differently, does not presumptively limit the testator’s ability to divide her estate as she or he desires. As such a testator could potentially disinherit a child without this impacting the common law claim the child will have against the estate.

Currently, South African law also provides for the surviving spouse to exercise a claim for maintenance against the deceased’s estate. The parental (and spousal) duty then does not merely extinguish upon death. The provision of maintenance for children gives effect to children’s rights as provided for by the Constitution, and affording this maintenance claim to protect dependants is wholly justifiable. This does not however entail that children should be entitled to a legitimate portion or forced heirship generally, as this would constitute an overly extensive constriction on freedom of testation.

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)

Discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace

A3_BEmployees are often faced with a difficult situation in the workplace when falling pregnant. Many establishments react unfavourably towards female employees that fall pregnant. These employees are often discriminated against in various direct and indirect manners. There are, however, clear provisions that protect employees in these situations which employees should familiarise themselves with.

There are different ways in which employees can be discriminated against in the workplace due to the fact that the employee has fallen pregnant. These forms of discrimination have different degrees of disadvantage towards the employee. It can range from having her contract terminated, being treated badly, being verbally abused or being ridiculed because she has fallen pregnant.

As a point of departure, it is stated in Section 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa[1], that nobody may be discriminated against based on the fact that they are pregnant. It is therefore a constitutional right for an employee not to be discriminated against in any form or manner because of her pregnancy. This right is further confirmed by Paragraph 4.2 of the Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy[2].

The most severe form of discrimination against an employee is the dismissal of an employee due to the fact that she has fallen pregnant. The Labour Relations Act [3] specifically mentions that an employer is not entitled to dismiss an employee due to her pregnancy. However, there are various other ways of discriminating against a pregnant employee that should be noted.

Employees should be mindful of more subtle forms of discrimination, such as contracts not being renewed when it was earlier apparent that it would have been, or where a promotion is not granted to an employee purely because she has fallen pregnant at a certain time. Whenever an employee can prove that there was a direct link between any disadvantage and her pregnancy, she will most likely be entitled to the appropriate remedy. Employees are further entitled to a certain amount of unpaid maternity leave and will be entitled to insist on it.

In the event of an employee being dismissed due to her pregnancy, or where it is clear that an employee was discriminated against in any way for this reason, there are various remedies for the employee to choose from. It is always a good idea to resolve the issue without taking legal action, as this will be an expensive exercise and will most likely cause a relatively uncomfortable atmosphere between an employee and an employer. An informal arrangement between the employer and employee is therefore recommended, yet it is not always a practical solution. However, if no other option is available to the employee, she will always have the option to approach the CCMA as well as Labour Courts to prove that she was discriminated against due to her pregnancy. She will then be in a position to request the appropriate remedy.

In conclusion, female employees should be mindful of possible forms of discrimination against them as it is clearly prohibited. Direct and indirect forms of discrimination exist but aren’t always easy to identify. However, if identified and proven, such discrimination will not be allowed and must subsequently be corrected.

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)

Bibliography

Acts:

Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy

Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995

[1] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

[2] Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy

[3] Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995

 

What is the role of the Family Advocate?

A2_BThe Family Advocate has many duties but in the context of Divorce Law, they are mostly consulted for making sure that all Parenting Plans and divorce Consent Papers are in the best interest of any minor children involved. The public can, however, also have access to the Family Advocate and it is important to note that they offer a free service.

The roles of the Family Advocate include the following: to provide education to family members and to others involved in the systems serving the family and youth; to help identify the strengths and needs of families; to be a mediator between the system and the family by helping to educate professionals on the strengths and needs of the family; to help family members understand the different roles of the agencies involved in the system and how they may affect the family and assist families in identifying and utilizing necessary services.

A Family Advocate helps state and local agencies and systems adopt more strengths-based and family-driven programs, policies, and services. The focus is to better meet the needs of families and their youth who have mental illness, co-occurring disorders or substance use disorders and improve outcomes for all, including families, youth, and the agencies they utilize.

A Family Advocate also has the authority to draft Parenting Plans at no cost which will help provide the minor child with a stable and suitable schedule between the two parents. A Family Advocate cannot however provide for a maintenance amount as this falls under the jurisdiction of the maintenance court. Should a parent feel like they are not sure of their rights or responsibilities towards their minor child, the Family Advocate can be approached in order to arrange a meeting between the two parties to mediate the rights and responsibilities between the two parties. This process is also at no cost, however should one of the parties deny the meeting, the Family Advocate has no authority to subpoena them to attend the meeting.

The Family Advocate is a perfect remedy for parents who have their child’s best interest at heart and who aim to provide a stable environment for the child when both parents are no longer together.

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 important is it to read legal pleadings and/or notices?

A1_BOften people only become aware of judgements reflecting on their credit records when trying to apply for loans, cellphone contracts, etc. However, what many of them do not know, is that it is most likely due to their own negligence that they have these judgements against them.

A summons is a document that informs a defendant that he or she is being sued and asserts the jurisdiction of the court to hear and determine the case. A summons can be served for many reasons which include divorce proceedings, traffic fines, outstanding fees, etc.

A simple summons sets out very briefly the details of the case. A combined summons does not set out the details or reasons as to why the action is being instituted, and such details can be found in the particulars of claim. It is important to take notice of the fine print on the summons. This is where you will find the information regarding when and where you should file your Notice of Intention to Defend, should you wish to defend the matter. An attorney usually drafts the notice and files it at court, however, it is not uncommon for people to defend such actions themselves. If you wish to defend the matter yourself it is important to serve it on the opposing attorneys (these details are on the summons) and file it at court.

With regards to any normal summons the time period to file the Notice of Intention to Defend is 10 (ten) days and 20 (twenty) days to file the opposing papers. If the defendant resides or is located in a 160 km radius outside the court, the defendant then has 21 (twenty one) days to file their Notice of Intention to Defend and 20 (twenty) days to file their opposing papers.

Once the ten or twenty days have passed and no Notice of Intention to Defend has been filed, the attorneys will immediately apply for Default Judgement. This may result in a judgement against your name. Once a Judge/Magistrate has granted Default Judgement, a Warrant of Execution can be issued in order to attach property and/or money for the amount as stated on the summons. If the Sheriff finds that there is no property to attach in order to obtain the money, the attorneys will go ahead with a Section 65A (1) Application. This Application requires the debtor to present their income and expenses to the court and provide an amount which can be paid off monthly in order to settle their debt.

A judgement will only be removed from your record once a rescission order is granted and/or proof is provided that the amount cited on the summons has been paid in full. If the amount has been paid in full, you can contact Transunion directly and get the judgement removed for free once proof of payment has been sent.

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)

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