Interview with Bertus Preller, a celebrity divorce attorney based in Cape Town

Business Times Interview – by Adele Shevel

Maria Shriver’s doing it; Tiger Wood’s wife did it. Making the decision to terminate a marriage is a tough one, and the chances are it’s followed by an even more traumatic lead-up to the divorce.

Shriver and Woods are very wealthy, their husbands hugely successful, and high profile infidelity was peppered into the mix. But it’s not only the rich who need to ascertain the financial situation of their husbands.

Women are encouraged to gather as much financial information about their husband’s financial affairs before the divorce proceedings commence, to establish the magnitude of the estate.

Bertus Preller, a celebrity divorce attorney at Abrahams and Gross in Cape Town provides guidance as to how to get your affairs in order before making that final call.

“It’s extremely important for any woman to know what’s going on in her husband’s financial affairs. It’s difficult when you don’t have access to his share portfolio or balance sheet, but one must reasonably expect to get an idea of financial affairs.”

An attorney cannot negotiate on behalf of a client without knowing in advance what the estate is worth.

In many divorce settlements, the wife ends up seeing what the estate is worth after it takes place.

  • Make copies of your husband’s bank statements, credit card statements and get hold of the short-term insurance policies as well as copies of pension funds and retirement funds. This will provide input on the extent of assets available and the value of the estate.
  • Build a clause into the settlement agreement to say if any assets that come to light after the divorce settlement, the wife is entitled to 50% of those assets and the husband will have to pay the legal fees involved in this process.
  • A more accurate sense of assets will come to light if the divorce is contested as parties are required to disclose any information to do with financial affairs. The husband can be required under oath to make full disclosure of his assets, and it is perjury if he doesn’t.
  • Women are advised not to leave the matrimonial home if children are involved, because it provides a sense of stability for the kids. It’s better for the husband to leave. If he makes himself guilty of abuse, the wife can get a restraining order to evict him from the property. In some instances, the husband can be restricted from accessing certain parts of the home.
  • Where the parties are married in community of property the wife is entitled to half the pension or retirement annuity fund. In a marriage out of community with the accrual, the pension fund will be regarded as part of the husband’s assets for purposes of calculating the accrual.
  • In terms of the Divorce Act, the wife (if married in community of property) can choose to ask for the pension fund money to be paid in cash, or transferred to a pension fund of her choice.  Normally pension funds pay out the wife’s portion in 3 to 6 months after the divorce. Wives of employees for the SA government have had to wait for her husband to resign or die before she could access her portion of his pension. But this might change — a judgement issued this month said it was unconstitutional for the wife of a government employee not to be allowed to access his pension following a divorce.
  • Make a list of your monthly income and expenses, as if you’re going to live on your own with your children. It’s important because you get situations where the wife is not working or earns much less than the husband and doesn’t have the money to fight a divorce battle.  She can bring an application pending a divorce, for interim maintenance, which means contributing maintenance before the divorce is finalised. She can also apply for contribution to her legal expenses. If interim-maintenance is granted and the husband does not comply with the court order, he is in contempt of court.
  • In some instances the wife can apply for emergency monetary relief in the magistrate’s court pending the institution of an application for interim maintenance by utilizing the provisions of the domestic violence act because the husband has blocked the use of credit.
  • Interim maintenance falls away once the divorce order is granted. There have been situations where the wife has been granted very favourable interim maintenance terms, so she stalls the divorce in order to continue getting a hearty amount of money each month.
  • The granting of interim maintenance divorce cannot be appealed. The only way the husband can minimize this is if he goes back to court and explains and proves that his financial situation has changed so much that he’s entitled to a reduction. But this does not happen easily.
  • Many battles in a divorce surround the children. Normally the wife is the parent of primary residence and the husband the parent of alternate residence. Increasingly, there’s a shared parenting approach with children staying with the mother for a week and then the father for a week and each party takes care of the children during that period.  “We see a lot of children used as a weapon. I tend to immediately get a parenting plan in place, and register that with the family advocate and stipulate that if issues arise with parenting and the children they need to go to a psychologist or a social worker”.
  • In matters where money is not fought over, it may make financial sense to go to one lawyer who can work for both parties. But a divorce that is acrimonious requires that each party needs a lawyer to assist.
  • A few mediation organizations exist where people can see a mediator to resolve disputes, to settle with both parties. The mediator doesn’t have the authority to issue and award damages but he can facilitate the process. If an abusive husband is involved, mediation is unlikely to work.  But it can work if the divorce is not acrimonious. Parties have to pay. “Sometimes this route can be more expensive than an uncontested divorce, depending on the amount of sessions that the parties have to attend” says Preller.
  • Where a couple owns a property together, they need to decide whether both parties want to keep the interest in the property, sell the property and split the proceeds, or whether one wants to buy out the other. The decision has financial implications because of transfer duties and tax.
  • It’s important to consider instances where the husband has no assets. A policy should be taken out in the event that the husband passes away and there is no money to help cover maintenance, in case of his death.

“The decision to divorce is a business decision. You need to look at what happens until the children turn 21, that there’s maintenance, medical cover for them, a school education and whether it’s government or private school and tertiary education,” says Preller.

About Bertus Preller

Bertus Preller is a Family Law and Divorce Attorney based in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. and deals with Family and Divorce matters across the country.Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His clients include celebrities, actors and actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, television presenters and various high net worth individuals.

His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, International Divorce Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Bertus also has a passion for gadgets and technology and he co-pioneered the development of technology in which the first book in the world was delivered to a mobile phone utilizing sms and java technology and also advised a number of South African book publishers on the Google Book settlement class action and negotiated contracts with the likes of Google and Amazon.com.

He specializes in Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Divorce Checklist, what women should know

Divorce, what women need to know?

  1. You have to understand your marriage regime, and if you don’t, then find someone who can explain it properly to you. Are you married in or out of community of property? If you are married in community of property, you will by law be entitled to 50% of the communal estate and if you are married out of community of property with the accrual system, you are entitled to half of the difference of you and your spouse’s accruals. If you are married out of community of property without the accrual prior to 1 November 1984, you will be entitled to ask for a redistribution of assets, which can entail that you may be able to claim 50% of the joint assets, but if you married out of community of property without the accrual after 1 November 1984 you will only have a claim for maintenance under certain circumstances.
  2. You can under certain circumstances claim rehabilitative maintenance. Rehabilitative maintenance is where one spouse pays the other for a period of time, say for two years, so that the ex-spouse can study, for example, to get a job or search for employment. Rehabilitative maintenance can also be used in setting up house again, relocation costs, utility bills, etc.
  3. Remember that you can lodge an application pending divorce to obtain maintenance while the divorce is in the process, you can also claim in such an application that your spouse makes a contribution to your legal expenses.
  4. Obtain as much financial information on your spouse; make copies of all bank statements, credit card statements and the like as well as a schedule of all the assets and liabilities, sources of income etc.
  5. Draft a detailed budget of your current monthly expenses and income. For you and your children. It may be worthwhile to cater for future expenses like. Secure the monthly maintenance with a cession of an insurance policy on your ex-spouses life in case he/she is disabled or dies.
  6. Try to stay in the family house (if it’s close to your school or work). There is a saying in our law, that possession is 9 tenths of the law. Remaining in the communal home will also stabilise the situation of the children, as it is proven the relocation can be a very traumatic experience for the children.
  7. Remember that you shouldn’t necessarily have to pay transfer duties for a property transferred to you during your divorce. You may have various options relating to the property that both of you own, for example by retaining it or selling it and divide the net profits.
  8. See to it that your Divorce Settlement Agreement is drafted in such a way that that you can enforce a garnishing order on your ex-spouse’s salary should he/she default on payments, in any event, non-payment of maintenance after divorce may result in a contempt of court application.
  9. See to it that your Divorce Settlement Agreement is drafted to obtain a share of any assets that your spouse has hidden and what you are not aware of at the time of divorce in that event that you are married in community of property or out of community of property with the Accrual system.
  10. Don’t settle for less to get out, many women simply walk out due to the emotional pressure. Remember that divorce is always a business decision and the decisions that you make now will have an impact only years later in your life. Divorce is a legal process, it can be very frustrating and emotional draining that takes time and strategic planning. Don’t change attorneys in the process simply because of your own frustration, as they say, the battle of divorce is like a chess game.
  11. Remember that your ex-spouse’s assets also include shareholdings in companies, retirement funds, pension funds and even tax refunds.
  12. Think with your head and not with your heart.
  13. Remember to change your Will soon after the divorce.

For legal advice contact: info@divorceattorney.co.za

About the author:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Divorce and the impact of the recession – Sunday Times Article

While financial matters are one of the biggest strains on a marriage and a primary cause of divorce, the divorce rate has declined during the recession.

This, say some experts, is because getting divorced is costly, especially so when times are tough. Moreover, most lawyers require a deposit before they will consider a case.

People would rather hold back on divorce proceedings because of the cost involved. In many cases when there is a strain on the marriage, the main breadwinner will not disclose some sources of income or other financial details, which makes it very difficult for the other spouse to file for divorce. By default, this results in the couple staying married.

Couples have been choosing to separate or to stay together in an unhappy relationship. Most of the complaints, especially by women, are that they cannot afford to get divorced and are unsure whether they will be financially secure after divorce.

The economic climate is not that good, and people still have a lot of debt. Some people can’t afford to get divorced because of that.

Bertus Preller, an attorney at Abrahams & Gross, says couples are being coerced into staying together for pragmatic financial reasons.

Maintaining two separate households while relying on the income once used to support a single household can be very difficult when times are tough, he says.

“I also think that our challenging financial climate may have prompted individuals to reconsider the role of marriage by thinking more of it as a quest for financial stability than a quest for finding a soulmate.”

In a US survey in which 1197 married couples were asked how their relationship had changed during the recession, a third said their marriage was at a high risk of divorce through added financial stress, while 38% of couples who had been considering divorce delayed their plans because of the costs, including legal fees and setting up separate households.

About 30% said the struggle of surviving the recession had brought them closer to their partner as they weathered the storm together.

More than half of the 1600 attorneys who are members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported a 40% downturn in their business in 2009, a phenomenon the New York Daily News described as “sleeping with the enemy”.

Those same lawyers are now being inundated with new clients as financial stability returns. The Financial Times reported that, in a signal of economic recovery, the US divorce rate was growing.

A stronger economy, lower unemployment and a housing market that is stabilizing are contributing to a rise in divorce filings.

“There is a definite increase in divorce instructions this year in comparison to 2010,” says Preller.

“From this, one may assume that the economy is slowly starting to pick up and, unfortunately, the divorce rate is too.”

Article by: Adele Shevel – Sunday Times: http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/article1064919.ece/Recession-puts-brakes-on-divorce

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Divorce Questions: Interview with Bertus Preller Family and Divorce Law Attorney Cape Town

Bertus Preller

Divorce Questions: Interview with Bertus Preller Family Law Attorney

Most couples going through the end of their marriage ask the same divorce questions. Regardless of how long people were married, they still need to find a Family Law Attorney and sort through issues regarding property, finances, children, and emotional trauma. Having accurate information is a crucial part of the divorce and healing process.

Family and Divorce Law Attorney Bertus Preller is a Family Law Specialist. A graduate of the Free State and University of Johannesburg, he represents celebrities and other high-net worth individuals in their divorce proceedings in South Africa.

How does one choose a good divorce lawyer?

Everyone differs in what type of attorneys suits them. For instance, do they want an attorney who will parent them or an attorney who will partner with them? Naturally, there are other variables to consider as well, like reputation, credentials, experience, and background. Getting references from contacts a person knows and trusts, especially from one’s accountant, business attorney, estate planning attorney or therapist, is the best way to find a good divorce attorney.

Does the end of a marriage have to turn into a battle?

“No, it does not,” Bertus Preller said. However, there often is some battle over one issue or another-like the division of property or who gets custody of the children. It is normally the battles over control in one area or another that precipitated the divorce in the first place. If a couple could not get along during the marriage, often the divorce is simply an amplification of those problems. “I tend to try to follow a more collaborative approach in dealing with divorce matters, and consider a number of ways to settle issues, whether through mediation or negotiating the best possible outcome for the client. We tend to see a number of ill experienced mediators offering services such as divorce mediation, offering a quick break with less emotional trauma and less costs. This may be a good option, but the reality is that mediation can be more expensive than an uncontested divorce; the other problem is that some mediators have absolutely no understanding of the legal consequences of the patrimonial issues of the divorce. You simply can’t mediate a divorce with a degree in psychology when there are legal issues involved and it frequently happens that one party is in fact at the end of the day in a much worse position”.

How can parents minimise the affect of divorce on their children?

“They can and should leave the children out of their immediate battles at all times,” Bertus Preller said. “Whether during the divorce process itself or long after it has ended. Spouses have no right bringing children into the differences that they have with each other. They should also give the children support and understanding throughout the divorce trauma and always show the utmost respect to the other spouse no matter how hard that may seem.”

How do courts determine the distribution of assets if one spouse is a stay at home parent or earns substantially less than the other?

In a marriage in community of property, it is important to establish the net value of the communal estate at the date of divorce. Then one can establish what each party is entitled to. Often, spouses can’t agree on a division on the joint estate and a Receiver or Liquidator needs to be appointed to divide the assets. When a marriage in community of property dissolves through divorce, each spouse is entitled to 50% of the joint estate, which includes the parties’ pension benefits.

In a marriage out of community with accrual, an auditor often needs to be appointed to determine the accrual. Preller said however he’s been involved in a number of divorce matters where extremely wealthy people were married in community of property. They may not have received the proper legal advice, “or became so focussed on the wedding ceremony that they forget about the consequences of a failed marriage.

We’re getting divorced because my spouse cheated on me. How do I make him/her “pay” for this mistake?

“Seeking vengeance is never the answer,” Bertus Preller said. “There is an old Spanish proverb: ‘Living well is the best revenge,’ is what the injured party should focus on and strive for. There is no win in trying to make someone pay for any betrayal in a marriage. However, in terms of South African law an aggrieved spouse is able to claim compensation against a third party who was the cause of the divorce.

I’m trying to be reasonable, but my spouse and I just can’t agree on major issues like who gets custody of the kids or who should keep the house. What should I do?

“Seek the advice of your attorney,” Bertus Preller said. “A mediation session might help with a respected attorney. This is what you pay your attorney to do: resolve major issues and help you come to reasonable solutions. If all else fails you may have to take your case to court and have the judge decide, but this is not always the best possible way, settlement soon in the proceedings is always the best outcome for everyone”

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried father’s rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.

DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY CONSULTS IN CAPE TOWN, JOHANNESBURG, PRETORIA AND DURBAN

DIVORCE AND FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY CONSULTS IN CAPE TOWN, JOHANNESBURG, PRETORIA AND DURBAN

Bertus Preller is a Family and Divorce Law Attorney at Abrahams and Gross Inc. and offers expert advice and assistance in all aspects of divorce, separation and family matters. Due to demand he is also now offering weekly consultations in Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria on all family law related matters. He offers a broad knowledge and years of experience of the whole range of family law issues and consider with you how best to resolve and help you to achieve your aims.

When considering children matters, he aims to assist you in resolving matters in a way that reflects the best interests of the children. His team can help you in preparing agreements to reflect what you would wish to happen should your relationship break down and can help you deal with any litigation arising either from divorce or break down of a relationship.

Whether advising in the context of divorce or separation his team recognise and understands the level of stress and emotional trauma that accompanies the breakdown of a marriage. There approach is to advise and assist in a sympathetic but objective manner. The team are sensitive to the very personal issues involved and are able to recommend suitably qualified professional counsellors/mediators, where appropriate.

DIVORCE

Married couples can dissolve their marriage through divorce. This ends the marriage and the divorced parties can then legally marry again. The divorce process will depend on whether the marriage is a civil marriage or a customary marriage. Civil marriages gets dissolved according to the rules and procedures set out in the South African Divorce Act. Marriages in terms of African Customary Law are dissolved according to the civil law but some of the consequences are determined by custom and tradition. Muslim and Hindi marriages are dissolved in terms of the rites and rituals of the religion.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed in a divorce, including:

  • custody of the children
  • access to the children
  • maintenance
  • dividing up property
  • Contested Divorces

Contested Divorces are when the Parties involved cannot reach an agreement. A contested divorce can last anything between 3 months to 3 years and can be extremely expensive financially and emotionally draining.
Many Contested Divorce cases still do not go on Trial and are settled long before they end up in Court. It is extremely difficult to assess the costs of a Contested Divorce, for these matters his team would bill at an affordable hourly rate – as do the other Professional Practitioners who will become involved in this matter – for example Advocates, Psychologists, Private Investigators and the like.

The team is extremely flexible on fees when they act  in a Contested Divorce and negotiate our fees with due cognisance of the client’s income and what the client can afford. Client’s also know exactly what they are in for to enable right from the start.

Uncontested Divorces

This is by far the least expensive process to get divorced and recommended if you have been married for a short time, you don’t have children, you don’t have many assets, and you can talk to each other and reach agreement on the settlement. eDivorce is a DIY divorce servive founded by Bertus Preller. The eDivorce process has two Divorce Plans from which you can choose:

The Silver Plan – R 950 + Sheriff fee of between R 100 – R 150

  • All your divorce forms – completed for you by the eDivorce platform and checked by divorce experts
  • Step-by-Step Guide -W ritten in plain English and easy to follow
  • Fast Service – Documents delivered within 24 hours guaranteed

The Gold Plan – Managed Divorce Service – R 6 000 all inclusive

  • The price you pay is fixed from the start of your case and includes everything you will need.
  • Why choose our Gold Plan Managed Divorce Service?
  • No complicated form filling – We will do that for you.
  • All your required divorce documents-Prepared and completed by divorce specialists
  • 7 day a week service- We are open when it is convenient for you.
  • All documents filed at court for you – We deal with all the filing and admin.
  • Settlement Agreements are catered for- We can help you, with or without children
  • Get a Free Will – For both Husband and Wife if you need one.
  • Divorce in 4 to 6 weeks -Fast service guaranteed.
  • Attorney supervised – All services supervised by an Attorney
  • Appearance at Court – We appoint an Attorney or Advocate to appear on your behalf at Court.
  • Professional and Trustworthy
  • Save over R 2000 – Fixed fee for all the work

DIVORCE MEDIATION

The court system is the way disputes are decided, but there are now more effective and very different ways of resolving conflict than just going through our courts. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a mediator facilitates communication between the parties, assists them in identifying the issues to be settled and helping them reach a mutually agreeable resolution for their dispute. We specialize in mediating divorce and family issues.

Mediation can guide a couple through the many complex processes of divorce and can help them to make decisions regarding the division of their assets, custody, visitation rights and child support. We can also mediate and draft a Parenting Plan, offering a framework for divorced parents to help them to stay close to their children after the inevitable separation.

MAINTENANCE

We assist clients in both maintenance claims in regard to a spouse as well as the children. When a couple get divorced, one party is often in a much better financial position than the other. In order for a court to award maintenance to a spouse there must be a need for such maintenance and an ability to pay. In case of maintenance of children both parents have a duty to support their children having due regard to their financial positions.

RULE 43 APPLICATIONS

We assist clients in obtaining maintenance pending the finalisation of the divorce proceedings. A Rule 43 Application is an interim application which is brought mainly in cases of contested divorces in order to obtain interim relief pending finalisation of the divorce. The relief which can be requested include maintenance for the wife, maintenance for the children, interim custody and control or access to the children and interim contributions towards legal costs.

MATRIMONIAL PROPERTY & PROPRIETARY CLAIMS

We assist clients with advice regarding the proprietary claims in their marriage. In a marriage in community of property, division of the joint estate is a natural consequence of a divorce. Forfeiture of benefits of the marriage in community of property can however be claimed by a party. The court would have regard to various factors i.e. the duration of the marriage, circumstances leading to the breakdown, misconduct of one of the parties etc.
Where the marriage is out of community of property specifically excluding the cruel system and entered into after 1 November 1994, on dissolution of the marriage in essence each spouse retains his or her own separate assets. There are, however various other potential claims which may be instituted based on moneys loaned and advanced, universal partnerships etc. Where a marriage is out of community of property without the accrual and entered before 1 November 1984 a redistribution order in terms of section 7 (3) of the divorce Act can potentially be claimed by a successful party. In order to be successful, a party must satisfy the court that he or she contributed directly or indirectly to the increase of the estate of the other.

Where the marriage is out of community of property subject to the accrual system the net assets of each spouse is determined. Any assets specifically excluded from the operation of the accrual in the Antenuptial Contract are excluded from the calculation.

Any commencement value, increase in accordance with the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from date of marriage to date of divorce, is deducted from the accrual to each party’s estate. The net results (estates) of each party are considered and the lesser net accrual deducted from the greater.

The net difference between the parties is then divided in two or in such other ratio as the parties may have agreed in their Antenuptial Contract and the party showing the greater accrual shall pay the other such amount in settlement of the patrimonial consequences of the marriage.

FAMILY – DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND ABUSE INTERDICTS

We assist clients in obtaining protection orders under the domestic violence act in cases where domestic violence has been committed. Domestic violence includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional, verbal and psychological abuse.

It further includes intimidation, harassment, stalking, and damage to property, entry into someone’s residence without consent where the parties do not share the same residence or any other controlling or abusive behaviour towards the complainant.

VISITATION – CUSTODY AND ACCESS

We assist clients in every aspect of obtaining custody, access and/or visitation rights as well as drafting proper parenting plans in terms of the new Children’s Act. We also assist clients to obtain endorsement of Settlement Agreements at the family advocate where children’s rights are at stake.

ADOPTION

Adopting a child in South Africa is a complex matter. We work in conjunction with social workers in private practice who offers personalised and professional services four South African and International adoptions.

COHABITATION AGREEMENTS

In an age when one out of every three marriages fails, parties with a trail of prior relationships and marriages behind them may prefer to live together, rather than get married to each other. These couples and same-sex or heterosexual partners who choose not to get married should sign a domestic partnership ( life partnership or cohabitation) agreement to protect themselves should their relationship come to an end.

PARENTING PLANS

We assist both divorced couples and unmarried couples with formulating parenting plans that is in the best interest of their minor children.

PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS

We assist clients in investigations regarding matrimonial services such as a cheating spouse. We formed an alliance with a reputable private investigation organisation which is based nationally who can investigate any matter notwithstanding whether it is of a matrimonial or financial nature.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.

Can a father reclaim maintenance when it is found that he is not the natural father of the child?

The following case illustrates that a father who pays maintenance under the impression that he is the natural father of a child may not have a claim to sue the mother of the child to repay the maintenance when he eventually finds out through a paternity DNA test that he is not the natural father of the child.

The case of Nel v Jonker in the High Court in Cape Town concerned an appeal from the Magistrates Court. The Appellant (the Defendant in the court a quo) and the Respondent (the Plaintiff a quo) were married to each other on 25 February 1989.  Their union bore a daughter, Nicole, who was born in June 1990.  For the sake of convenience I shall refer to the parties as in the court a quo.

On 3 February 1995 the parties were divorced by order of this Court and pursuant thereto the Plaintiff was directed to maintain Nicole by effecting payment of the sum of R350,00 per month and to retain her on his medical aid fund.

It was common cause that during the period February 1995 to June 2006 the Plaintiff paid to the Defendant the sum of R50050,00 in respect of maintenance for  Nicole.  The said sum included payment of an amount of R1000,00 to the Edgemead Primary School in January 2000.

In June 2006 Nicole underwent a paternity test which showed conclusively that the Plaintiff was not her natural father. On 30 July 2007, pursuant to an application brought by the Plaintiff, this Court issued an order declaring that he was not the natural father of Nicole and, inter alia, varying the divorce order in terms of Section 8 of the Divorce Act, 70 of 1979, by the deletion of the Plaintiff’s maintenance obligations towards Nicole. At the same time the Plaintiff instituted action in the Magistrate’s Court for recovery of the sum of R50050,00  His claim was upheld and the Defendant now appeals against the order of the magistrate.

It was common cause that the parties were married on 25 February 1989 and that Nicole was born on 12 June 1990.  Assuming a normal pregnancy of nine months, this would mean that the Defendant committed an act of adultery around September/October 1989 during which the child would have been conceived.

We know nothing about the circumstances of this dalliance because there was no evidence put before the magistrate in that regard.  The Plaintiff testified that he had always believed that he was the natural father of the girl and that he raised her as such with the Defendant until they were divorced in February 1995. The Plaintiff further testified that he did not oppose his wife’s claims at divorce because he regarded the marriage as irretrievably broken down and because he believed that he was obliged to maintain the child whom he regarded as his daughter. After the divorce the Plaintiff maintained Nicole for more than ten years.  He testified that he later became resentful about the Defendant’s persistent claims for maintenance increases and eventually decided to ask for a paternity test.  The Plaintiff also testified that he was urged by certain family members to go for such tests.  They evidently had reason to suspect that the Plaintiff was not the father and eventually he succumbed to their entreaties.

The Plaintiff concluded by saying that the Defendant never confessed her adultery to him and that his impression was that she never had any idea of who the real father of the child was. Under cross-examination the Plaintiff accepted that he had defaulted on his maintenance obligations over the years but said that he had then paid up in full from time to time.  He confirmed that he had paid the maintenance because he was obliged to do so in terms of the divorce order. As I said earlier, the Defendant did not testify and so one does not know the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy.  Importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that she knew that her adultery had resulted in the birth of Nicole and that she intentionally withheld that information from the Plaintiff.  Had that been the case her claim in the divorce action for maintenance for the child would have been fraudulent and would have afforded the Plaintiff a different cause of action.

The Plaintiff’s legal obligation to pay the maintenance in respect of Nicole arises directly from an order of this Court and was accordingly an obligation he could not avoid.  The basis therefor was his assumption that a child born during the subsistence of the marriage was fathered by him.  This is in accordance with the rebuttable common law presumption: pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant.

While it cannot be contended that the Plaintiff laboured under a mistake of law, the divorce order was underpinned by an erroneous factual assumption, (paternity) either by the parties jointly or, at least, by the Plaintiff.  The Judge demonstrated  that the Supreme Court of Appeal has disregarded any notional distinction between mistakes of law and fact:  the focus is essentially on whether the payment was made indebitum i.e. without legal ground.While the parties were still married the Plaintiff maintained the child as a member of the household, believing that she was his child and that he was duty bound to do so.  When the Defendant issued the divorce summons and claimed payment of maintenance for the child, the Plaintiff still believed that Nicole was his daughter.  As stated, by not contesting the divorce action, he effectively consented to the Defendant’s claims, which included claims in compliance with the provisions of Section 6 of the Divorce Act which preclude the granting of a decree of divorce until the Court is satisfied that adequate provision has been made for the care and maintenance of any child born of the marriage.

Given the findings which the Judge made, it was not necessary to come to a final decision on this aspect of the case.  Suffice it to say that courts may in the future be wary of recognising claims in circumstances such as the present which necessitate an enquiry into paternity and which may have the tendency to destroy an otherwise loving and caring parental relationship with a child whose rights to family and parental care are protected under section 28 of the Constitution.

The Judge found that the court a quo erred in finding that the Plaintiff had established a claim of enrichment.

Who’s your Daddy?, paternity testing and South African Law

As a Family Law attorney I do get a lot of cases where paternity is denied, especially when maintenance responsibilities comes into play.South African law acknowledges three kinds of blood tests to determine paternity, these are:

  1. The first and oldest test is based on an analysis of the blood cells. And antiserum is used in this test to identify the blood groups of the mother, her spouse and the child. Because parents belonging to particular blood groups can procreate children belonging only to a limited number of possible blood groups, this test can sometimes indicate that the father concerned cannot be the father of the child. Owing to the fact that lots of people belong to the same blood group, the test cannot determine who actually is the father of the child.
  2. The second kind of test is based on an analysis of white blood cells and is known as the HLA system of tissue typing. By determining the haplotype of the child as well as of both husband and wife, it can be determined whether the child has indeed inherited one haplotype from each of the two adults. This test can positively identify the natural father of the child concerned. In previous cases before the courts medical evidence was accepted that the tissue typing will indicate the natural father to a degree of probability of 99.9%. This test can therefore be used to show that the husband of the child’s mother is not the father of the child.
  3. The most recent test, namely the DNA system of identification, has previously been used to identify criminals after analyzing the blood, tissue and even saliva or semen found at the scene of a crime. DNA tests can be used to identify paternity to a very high degree of certainty. The test normally involves determining the DNA structures of all the parties involved. These DNA patterns are transmitted to a person’s descendents. Owing to the fact that the DNA inherited from the mother is distinguishable from that of the father, a particular man can be positively identified as the natural father of the child.

The Children’s Act confirms in Section 36 a presumption in respect of a child born out of wedlock. The presumption is that the person whom had sexual intercourse with the mother at any time when that child could have been conceived will be presumed to be the biological father of the child in the absence of evidence to the contrary which raises reasonable doubt. In the case of S v L 1992 (3) SA 713 (E) it was held that the phrase “in the absence of evidence to the contrary which raises reasonable doubt” means that whenever there is evidence to the contrary, the presumption does not operate or ceases to operate. This is also in line with the court’s decision in R v Epstein 1951 (1) SA 278 (O), where it was held that a presumption operating “in the absence of evidence to the contrary” only requires evidence, not proof, to counteract the presumption. The Children’s Act does not define the word “evidence”, thus any acceptable evidence suffices, regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial, however, it must raise reasonable doubt.

Section 37 of the Children’s Act states that if a person in proceedings in which paternity of a child is challenged refuses to submit him/herself, or the child, to take blood samples in order to carry out a scientific test to prove the paternity of the child, then a presumption in our law exists in which the failure of such a party to agree to such a test may be used as evidence to prove the contrary. The effect of this section is that it compels a court to warn the person who has refused to have his/her or the child’s blood sample taken ‘of the effect’ which such refusal might have on his/her credibility.

Refusal by mother to submit her and child to testing

In O v O, Friedman JP stated that there is no statutory or common-law power enabling the court to order an adult to allow a blood sample to be taken for the purpose of establishing paternity. Although there is still no such power, Section 37 obliges the court to warn the mother of the consequences of her refusal (perhaps that the man she is accusing of having fathered her child cannot be deemed to have fathered the child in the absence of a blood test). He would then in all probability not be ordered to pay maintenance for the child.

About the Author:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in law and 13 years as a practising attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters and international divorce law.