Cape Town divorce lawyer Bertus Preller writes South Africa’s first Book on Divorce and Separation for the general public, published by Random House Struik

CAPE TOWN, WC, SOUTH AFRICA, August 7, 2013 /EINPresswire.com/ —

Everyone’s Guide to Divorce and Separation by Bertus Preller will help with the following crucial aspects: your rights when you get divorced in South Africa, and the monetary aspects relating to divorce (including the consequences relating to assets and the divisions thereof, spousal maintenance and support, parental rights and responsibilities of children, how to implement a parenting plan, how much child maintenance will likely be required, and how to file for maintenance and child support, the procedures to obtain a protection order when there is domestic violence or abuse, an unmarried father’s rights and how to acquire parental rights and the law on cohabitation, same-sex marriages, and how to draft a proper cohabitation agreement.
In the Foreword of the book, Judge Denis Davis says the following:

“Bertus Preller has filled a very significant gap with this timely book, in that in plain language, he provides a comprehensive guide to the broader community through the thicket of law that now characterises this legal landscape. Having said that, many lawyers, particularly those who do not specialise in the field, will also find great assistance in this work. Early on in the text, Mr Preller makes a vital point – litigation is truly the option of last resort in the event of a matrimonial dispute. The adversarial process which is the manner in which law operates is not at all conducive to a settlement of issues, particularly custody of minor children, which have a long-lasting and vital impact on the lives, not only of the antagonists but also the children who have not, in any way, caused the problem giving rise to the forensic battle. Often in my experience on the Bench, I have wondered how such vicious and counter productive litigation can be allowed to continue. Lawyers will point to clients, whose disappointment in the breakdown of the marriage now powers such adverse feelings to their erstwhile partner, as the core reason for the ‘legal fight to the finish’. Whatever the context, however, it is important that arcane and often incomprehensible legal jargon be made accessible to those affected by the law. In this way, ordinary citizens can ensure that their rights work for them and at the same time they are assisted to grasp fully the implications of the obligations that the law imposes upon them. – Judge Dennis Davis”

The book is on the shelves of all major book stores on and also at Amazon.com

About the Author:

Bertus Preller is a Family and Divorce Law Attorney and Mediator at Bertus Preller & Associates Incoss in Cape Town. He acts in divorce matters across South Africa He matriculated at Grey College, studied at the University of the Free State and the University of Johannesburg and was admitted as an attorney in 1989. He has nearly 25 years of experience in law. He was appointed as a part time mediator and arbitrator in 1996 by the CCMA. He has also been quoted on Family Law issues in various newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times and magazines such as Noseweek, Keur, Living and Loving, Longevity, Woman and Home, Women’s Health, You, Huisgenoot and Fairlady and also appeared on the SABC television show, 3 Talk, Morning Live and on the 5FM Breakfast show with Gareth Cliff. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high net worth individuals. 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, child abduction and Hague Convention cases and domestic violence matters and international divorce law. He is also the founder of iDivorce an online uncontested divorce service.

Tel: 021 422 2461

 

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Divorce Attorney Cape Town
Bertus Preller & Associates Inc.
+27214222461

Divorce and Parenting Plans

The Children’s Act offers parenting plans as a method to regulate and assist parents to agree how to exercise their parental responsibilities and rights.

Section 33(1) of the Children’s Act provides that co-holders of parental rights and responsibilities may agree on a parenting plan that sets out the method and mode of how each parent will exercise his/her rights over the children. Parenting Plans must comply with the best interests of the child standard.

It frequently happens that one parent will experience difficulties in exercising his/her parental rights, with the other parent deliberately blocking contact or frustrating it where no parenting plan exist or where a court order was made years ago that did not keep track or became outdated with the changes in our family law over the years. Where parents do struggle or where they experience difficulties to exercise these rights, mediation in terms of the Children’s Act is a prerequisite. The Act stipulates that an aggrieved parent must first seek the assistance of the Family Advocate, social worker or psychologist. Alternatively they must go to mediation facilitated by a social worker or other suitably qualified person.

The Children’s Act discourages parents from approaching the court as a first resort when they experience difficulties in exercising their rights and responsibilities.  The Act use the word “must” in section 33(5) which means that parties’ are compelled to refer to seek assistance or mediation prior to embarking on court action. The Act also lays down certain guidelines concerning parenting plans, for example that it must be in writing and that it must be registered with a Family Advocate Office or made an order of court. To register a parenting plan at the office of the Family Advocate a prescribed form must be used.

Once a parenting plan is in place it may be amended, suspended or terminated. Where a plan was registered at the office of the Family Advocate the parties must apply to the Family Advocate Office to amend, suspend or terminate the plan and in the event that it was made an order of court an application should be made to court to vary the plan.

One must distinguish between Parental Responsibilities and Rights Agreements (PRR) made in terms of section 22 and Parenting Plans in terms of section 33 of the Act. PRR plans are usually entered into where a mother or other person comes to an agreement with the biological father of the child and encompass an agreement with a party that did not have rights in terms of section 21.  Such an agreement confers rights and the agreement is typically between unmarried parents.

Parenting Plans on the other hand are usually entered into by co-holders of PRR Plans, the agreement delineates existing rights and an attempt to agree is a prerequisite in going to court. Typically, such a plan is entered into by divorcing parents and an unmarried father who does qualify in terms of the Act.

Section 35 of the Act contains a provision with its aim to prevent a parent from frustrating the other parent’s rights. If a person under whose care a child is refuse contact with the other parent who is also a co-holder and do so contrary to a court order or registered plan, such person could be found guilty of a criminal offence. Such person can be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year. A person, with whom a child lives, must also notify the other parent of a change of address. Failure could result in a criminal offence.

About Divorce Attorney Cape Town:

Bertus Preller is a Divorce 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 Bertus Preller & Associates 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.

Rights and obligations of unmarried fathers – a court should never be biased

Rights and obligations of unmarried fathers

The facts in FS v JJ and Another 2011 (3) SA 126 (SCA) were as follows. A child, C, was born while the appellant, the father, and her mother, who died shortly after her birth, were living together. They intended to marry. The first respondent was C’s maternal grandmother, who was married to the second respondent (the grandparents). The father and grandparents had been engaged in a protracted battle for the custody of C, during which several applications were heard in the Northern and Western Cape High Courts. The present appeal was against a series of orders made by Kgomo JP in the Northern Cape High Court in terms of which custody of C was awarded to the grandparents – an order at odds with the other orders made by both the Northern and Western Cape High Courts.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) was asked to determine, inter alia, the best interests of C, the rights of unmarried fathers, and the extent of grandparents’ rights in respect of their grandchildren.

As to the grandparents’ rights and responsibilities, the court held that these were from 1 April 2010 governed by ss 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act, which governed non-parental rights to care and guardianship. Before then, grandparents had no inherent rights or responsibilities and it was only the High Court that could confer access, custody or guardianship on a grandparent if it was in the best interests of a child, which had to be assessed in the light of the rights of the biological parents.

As far as the father’s allegation of bias by the trial court was concerned, the present court held that it was clear from the conduct and language of Kgomo JP that he was biased against the father and that he had entirely failed to consider C’s best interests. Kgomo JP’s decision in ordering that C be returned to her grandparents had no basis in fact or in law, evinced bias on his part, and failed to consider the only real issue – C’s best interests.

It was clear from the various reports studied by the court that C’s best interests would be served by placing her with her father.

The High Court is the guardian of all children. However at times as seen in this case, the court was biased against the father of the child. One hears allot of father’s complain of a biased attitude that prevails in our courts. Ultimately the only issue that a court should pronounce on is whether its decision is in the best interests of the child. The interests of the parties should always be secondary to that of the child and the court as guardian of all minors should always live up to such expectation.

About the author:

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.

International abduction of minor children a South African Law Perspective

International abduction of minors a South African Perspective

Article 3(b) of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980), which is incorporated into South African law by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Act 72 of 1996 (the Act), provides that the removal or retention of a child is to be considered wrongful if, among others, at the time of the removal or retention, the rights of custody were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

In terms of article 13(b), the authority of the requested state is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body in the other state that opposes the return or retention establishes that there is a grave risk that his return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation. In Central Authority of the Republic of South Africa and Another v LG 2011 (2) SA 386 (GNP) the second applicant, the father, and the respondent, the mother, were married and living together with their minor child in the United Kingdom (UK). After several heated arguments the parties agreed to divorce and that the respondent would return to her native South Africa with the child. Alleging that the respondent agreed to return with the minor child to the UK after attending a wedding in South Africa and as she failed to do so she had unlawfully retained the child in this country, the second applicant (with the help of the first applicant, the Central Authority of South Africa) applied for a court order for the return of the child to the UK. The application was dismissed with costs.

Molopa-Sethosa J said the fact that the second applicant was prepared to stay away from the minor child, who was only 17-months-old at the time, for at least six months when the child was in South Africa with the respondent (who was during that time considering whether reconciliation with the second applicant was possible) was not indicative of a close bond between the second applicant and the child. Furthermore, the child would be exposed to the risk of psychological harm if he were to be returned to the second applicant who did not have the best interests of the child at heart. The fact that since the child had been in South Africa his health improved tremendously was of the utmost importance and could not be ignored.

Best interests and views of a child in international abduction matters:

In Central Authority v MR (LS Intervening) 2011 (2) SA 428 (GNP) the court dealt with the best interests of a minor child and her views in an international child abduction matter. After the death of her mother the minor child of some nine years lived with her biological father in Belgium. Subsequently the two relocated to Los Angeles, in the United States of America (USA), because of the father’s professional commitments.

There the two lived with the father’s new wife. After the child visited her maternal grandmother in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, the grandmother prevented the minor child returning to the father in Los Angeles and instituted an ex parte application to keep the child in this country. She sought, pending the final outcome of the family advocate’s investigation, full parental rights and responsibilities in respect of the minor. Meanwhile, the father sought the return of the child to the USA. The court dismissed the father’s application, but ordered the grandmother to pay costs because of the unacceptable way she instituted ex parte proceedings and for not being candid with the court.

Shared Parenting

What is Shared Parenting?

“An arrangement whereby children freely enjoy the love and nurture of both parents and their wider family following separation or divorce …it does mean that sufficient time is spent with each parent for the child to view each parent as a parent rather than an aunty or uncle.”

(ASP definition of Shared Parenting as adopted by CAFCASS in 2004)

Shared parenting is an arrangement after divorce wherein both parents continue to have a strong positive presence in their children’s lives. Shared parenting entails that a child spend equal or significant amounts of time with each parent.

As a divorce and family law attorney I see a huge shift towards a more collaborative approach between parents to share equal time with their children after divorce.

Shared parenting arrangements may differ to suit various situations. Time between each parent may be split 50/50 or the children may live with one parent for example, four days every week and the rest of the week with another parent.

After divorce, shared parenting is a preferred alternative to asking the children to choose where they want to live. Many children prefer shared parenting rather than the traditional arrangements. With shared parenting, the children still has the chance to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.

There are many benefits to shared parenting. It allows a child to have both his/her parents present in his/her life and although the child has to switch between two homes, shared parenting reassures the child that both parents care for them. This arrangement is more beneficial to a child than when they live with only one parent because often the latter creates a distance both physical and emotional between the child and the “absent” parent.

Studies show that children of divorced couples who retain meaningful relationships with each parent are the ones who find it easier to deal with the breakup of their parents. Research also shows shared parenting is possible despite intense conflict between parents if the parents focus on what is best for their children.

Almost half of the children in the U.S. are deprived of the lifelong benefits of two parents who share the parenting throughout the first 18 years of their children’s lives.

The Benefits of Shared Residence and Shared Parenting

  • Removes the need for a child to choose between the parents
  • Allows both parents to love and nurture the child in much the same way as they did prior to parental separation and therefore promotes the continuation of family life
  • The child does not feel rejected by the non-resident parent and does not blame himself
  • Confirms to the child that he still has two parents who love and wish to care for him
  • The child derives emotional and psychological security from having two fully engaged parents
  • The child is no longer brought up to believe that the resident parent is the real, better or main parent and that the non-resident parent is a lesser parent or to be rejected
  • Re-affirms the responsibility of each parent to care and provide for the child
  • Sends a clear message to the resident parent, schools, doctors and the courts that both parents are equal and that all decisions relating to the child should be based on this principle
  • The child is more likely to grow up in a well-adjusted manner
  • Reduces parental hostility as it requires both parents to negotiate and make joint decisions

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.

Bertus Preller

B.Proc; AD Dip L Law

Family Law Attorney

A:1st Floor, 56 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town, 8000

O: +27 (0) 21 422 1323

F: 086 572 8373

C: +27 (0) 83 443 9838

E: bertus@divorceattorney.co.za; W:  www.divorceattorney.co.za; Twitter: www.twitter.com/edivorce;

Facebook: www.facebook.com/divorceattorneys; Skype: divorceattorney

Paternity Fraud

Paternity Fraud

by Bertus Preller, Family Law Attorney, Abrahams and Gross Inc Cape Town.

Paternity fraud refers to a paternal discrepancy, in which a mother names a man to be the biological father of a child, particularly for self-interest, when she knows or suspects that he is indeed not the biological father.

Fathers’ rights activists’ state that in cases of paternity fraud, there are many potential victims: the non-biological father who pays erroneously maintenance, the child deprived of a relationship with his/her biological father, and the biological father who is deprived of his relationship with his child. Other victims include the child’s and the non-biological father’s families. In particular, financial hardship may have resulted for the non-biological father’s due to the maintenance and child support that he has to pay and his other children and spouse in cases in which the man was forced to make maintenance payments for another man’s child.

Foreign Jurisdictions

In Australia, mothers are being forced to pay back thousands of dollars to men they wrongly claimed fathered their children following a contentious reform of child support laws. The Australian face of paternity fraud is a Melbourne man named Liam Magill. In 2002, Magill’s ex-wife Meredith was ordered to pay him $70,000 for general damages and the economic loss he suffered as a consequence of her false declaration that he was, as one newspaper report put it, the biological father of “her lover’s children”.

In the UK, single mothers are deliberately naming the wrong man as the father of their children when making maintenance claims. Child Support Agency figures show that nearly one in five of the contested paternity claims it handled last year cleared the man originally named as the father. These are the actual figures. Its figures for 2007-2008, obtained under freedom of information rules, show that out of 3,474 DNA paternity tests ordered, 661 – 19 per cent – named the wrong man. It is the highest proportion since the agency started collating figures nationally. Government-approved DNA testing kits, deemed 99.99 per cent accurate, have exposed 4,854 false paternity claims since records began in 1998-99.

In the United States it is estimated that almost 30% of DNA paternity tests, excluded the man as the father of the child in question. Of the 353,387 cases in 2003, 99,174 (28.06%) were reported as exclusions.

South Africa 

Issues regarding paternity have been dealt with in a number of cases in the South African Courts.

Presumption of Paternity

The South African Children’s Act confirms in Section 36 a presumption in respect of a child born out of wedlock (parties who were not married to each other). 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.

Compelling a person to undergo a paternity test

Most recently in YM v LB 2010 ZASCA 106 the Supreme Court of Appeal had been given an opportunity to provide judicial clarity on the law relating to court-ordered blood testing of potential parents refusing to voluntary submit themselves (and/or the minor child) to such testing, but the Court most unfortunately elected to side-step the issue based on the facts of the matter. It is not suggested that the court was necessarily wrong in its final decision, but it was hoped that it would provide guidelines as to this issue of compelling adults and children to undergo blood tests to determine paternity. In this case the court of first instance ordered the parents and child to undergo paternity testing, the decision of the court was then taken on appeal.

The issue had been unclear for about 30 years and certainty regarding the obligation and power of the court to order such tests against the wishes of one of the parties would have been valuable. It was indeed a missed opportunity to clarify the law once and for all.

The true biological paternity of a child is of the utmost importance in South Africa as it determines the parental responsibilities and rights of parties, including contact, care and the duty to maintain the child until the child becomes self-supporting. The

South African law remains rooted in biology. Unfortunately, it is not unknown for a woman to lie about whom she had intercourse with, resulting in two legal consequences:

(a)   the husband is legally regarded as the father of the child with the accompanying rights and obligations; and

(b)  the biological father is denied his parental rights and responsibilities that he may have had or have obtained automatically vis-à-vis his biological child.

The first principle has its roots in Roman law. I can’t imagine that it was ever the aim of the Roman law principles to force the husband of a wife to support another man’s child without his knowledge. The common law principle of stuprum after all made provision for the annulment of a marriage where a husband discovers that his wife was pregnant with the child of another man at the time of the marriage.

With DNA testing becoming more common and now being done for a variety of reasons, including medical testing for potential illnesses, this has resulted in a spate of paternity fraud cases making headline news worldwide. In these cases the husband and the child discover years later that the paternity was based on a lie and that the husband had supported the child for years as a result of this fraud (see inter alia the facts of Johncom Media Investments v M 2009 4 SA 7 (CC) (South Africa); Magill v Magill [2005] VSCA 51 (17 March 2005) (Australia), supra and the allegations of the horror film director Andrew Douglas against his ex-wife Ameena Meer (USA). This trend is unlikely to end.

In YM v LB, supra, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found that where the paternity of the child has been shown on a balance of probabilities, as was the case in casu, scientific tests on a child should not be ordered. In this matter paternity was not really in dispute as both parties (at various times before the attorneys joined the show) believed that the man in question was the father of the child. The mother’s maternity was obviously never in doubt.

The court made the following observations:

(a)          that as paternity is determined on a balance of probabilities, the man is not entitled to demand scientific proof;

(b)          that in relevant instances, the court has the inherent power as upper guardian of all minor children to order such tests if it is in the best interests of the child;

(c)          the SCA referred to the observations of the court a quo regarding truth as a primary value in the administration of justice, but by implication disagree with the statement.

The SCA did note that the rights of privacy and bodily integrity may be infringed if it is in the best interests of the child. However, it confirmed the statement made by Judge Didcott in an earlier case that it may not be in an individual’s best interest to know the truth. The court noted that in some cases it may be justified to order tests, but that the discovery of the truth should not be generalized. With these comments, the appeal was upheld.

The basis of a paternity matter is that the applicant will have to show that such a test would be in the best interest of the child. This in itself is extremely difficult as there seems to be no research done in South Africa as to the impact on a child that learns, at a much later stage, that his/her presumed father was not the biological father. One may argue that paternity testing may have a negative short-term impact on the family as it may reveal relationships that were previously unknown. After all, it has been acknowledged that from a broader family perspective, family genes are considered to be a valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations. Personally I am yet to be convinced by our courts that it would be better not to know the truth or to keep the truth from a child at any age and I ponder whether this is indeed in the interests of a child. In disputed paternity claims the emotional trauma of uncertainty definitely taints the relationships between the parents and sometimes also the relationships between the probable father and the child. Trauma such as this can be easily be resolved through testing. For the SCA to note that the man is not entitled to scientific proof when the reality is that it can readily be done seems to unnecessarily muddle such an important issue with legalities.

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 it is submitted that Section 37 of the Children’s Act does not bring certainty. The section 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. The problem is that the section does not go far enough and does not resolve the main issue, namely the truth about the paternity of the child.

Although the SCA overturned the initial decision of the High Court, namely to force the parents and the child to undergo DNA testing, it is submitted that certain statements of the original decision remains quite valid. The court of first instance confirmed that judicial notice may be taken of the existence of these tests and that it is unnecessary for medical evidence to be adduced regarding the nature and accuracy of these tests before and that this does not exclude any challenge to the reliability of any particular test in litigation once the test had been performed. There is however no guidance as to the most important question: whether or not it will be in the best interests of the minor child to determine paternity with certainty.

A number of questions still remain, most importantly what weight our courts in future will place on the argument that concealing the truth from a child might have the supposed advantage of not ‘bastardising’ the child or cutting it off from an established source of maintenance? It surely creates an inherent and inescapable injustice in compelling a person to assume obligations not rightfully his.

The father in the YM v LB matter did agree to a marriage, but not to raise another man’s child. What is also important is that a child of the age of 18 has the right to the medical information of his genetic parents in instances of artificial fertilisation and surrogacy which is recognised by section 41(1) of the Children’s Act. One may argue that by refusing the compelling of blood tests for paternity disputes in instances of natural conception would result in denying these children of their right to information of their genetic parents.

It is my respectful view that the court of first instance was correct when it concluded that it will be in the best interests of the child that paternity be scientifically determined and it is unfortunate that the SCA did not provide the legal fraternity with their wisdom.

Another recent decision, this time by the High Court in the Western Cape in the matter of N v J Case Number A653/2009 are of importance. This case 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, 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 and pursuant thereto the Plaintiff was directed to maintain the child 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  the child.  The said sum included payment of an amount of R1000,00 to a Primary School in January 2000. In June 2006 the child 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 an order was granted declaring that the Plaintiff was not the natural father of The child 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 The child. At the same time the Plaintiff instituted action in the Magistrate’s Court for recovery of the sum of R50050,00 that he paid in maintenance. His claim was upheld and the Defendant appealed against the order of the magistrate.

It was common cause that the parties were married on 25 February 1989 and that the child 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.

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 the child 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 stated 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. Unfortunately the Defendant did not testify and so one does not know the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy.  Importantly, there was no evidence to suggest that she knew that her adultery had resulted in the birth of the child 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 the child arises directly from an order of Court and was accordingly an obligation he could not avoid.  The basis therefore 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 SCA 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 the child 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, save to state the father’s claim to re-claim the maintenance that he paid over the years did not succeed.  Our 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.

Conclusion

What is disturbing is the fact that it is impossible to accurately estimate just how widespread paternity fraud is. One may assume that there are a plethora of men in South Africa who are currently raising another man’s child; blissfully unaware of the devastating truth. For each of these men, the truth will only be revealed if the woman who duped them decides to confess, or for some reason, a paternity test is taken. A real problem however is to compel someone to undergo such a test in legal terms as evidenced by the cases dealt with above. It remains to be seen how our courts will deal with this issue in future. Fact is that naming the wrong father, could result in criminal prosecution, if proven that the mother concealed the truth deliberately.

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 and deals with Family Law cases on a national basis. 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.

Contact: 021 422 1323

Grandparents Access to the grandchildren

Grandparents and Contact –The right to see your grandchildren.

In so far as grandparents’ rights and responsibilities are concerned, ss 23 and 24 of the Children’s Act, which govern non-parental rights to care and guardianship respectively, came into operation on 1 April 2010. Before that date grandparents had no inherent rights or responsibilities and it was only a high court, as upper guardian of a child, which could confer access, custody or guardianship on a grandparent. This would be done only if it were in the best interests of a child – an assessment that must be made having regard to the rights of the biological parents.

Grandparents very often receive the fallout from their chidren’s divorces – limited, restricted or no access at all to their often beloved grandchildren. This has all changed with the New Children’s Act whose main objectives are, amongst others  to:

  • make provision for structures, services and means for promoting and monitoring the sound physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social development of children;
  • strengthen and develop community structures which can assist in providing care and protection for children;
  • promote the preservation and strengthening of families;

And calls for

  • the prioritisation of the best interest of the child,
  • the right to the child being able to participate in any matter concerning that child,
  • a child’s right of access to court.

One of the issues covered by the new Children’s Act, is giving the right of contact and care to an interested person, in this instance the grandparent, by order of court, Children’s or High Court,

It also makes provision for any person having an interest in the care, well-being and development of a child to apply to the High Court for an order granting guardianship .

The Court In making its order, will consider and take into account:

  • the best interests of the child;
  • the relationship between the applicant and the child
  • the degree of commitment that the applicant has shown towards the child
  • the extent to which the applicant has contributed towards expenses in connection with the birth and maintenance of the child; and
  • any other fact that should, in the opinion of the court, be taken into account

Compiled by Bertus Preller, Family and Divorce Law Attorney Abrahams and Gross

Living together, make sure you have a cohabitation agreement, otherwise you leave with nothing!

Personal finance: If you don’t say ‘I do”, get it in writing – Interview with Bertus Preller – Family Law Attorney

Gone are the days of “single” or “married”. You only have to look at Facebook’s relationship declaration options to know that today’s partnerships come in all shapes and sizes.

But what are the financial risks of being involved in a long-term relationship that is not formally recognised as a marriage?

We quizzed some experts to find out the best ways to protect yourself if you don’t fancy walking down the aisle with your life partner.

Family law attorney Bertus Preller said patterns of marriage, divorce and cohabiting without marriage had been changing for years.

“The incidences of domestic partnerships are growing throughout the world.”

Preller said that, according to the 1996 census, 1.3million people described themselves as living with a partner. When the 2001 census came around, this figure had almost doubled to nearly 2.4million.

Many people believe that, if they live together for some time, the relationship will be recognised by the state, and there will be legal rights, duties and protection.

But Preller said there was no such thing as common-law marriage – because the concept has been abolished worldwide.

“The time a couple spend living together does not translate into a default marriage. The consequence is that, at the dissolution of the relationship, the assets or any obligations are determined or distributed on a basis of the arrangement that parties used during their relationship,” he said.

Domestic partnerships were never prohibited in South African law – but neither did they enjoy any noteworthy recognition or protection, Preller said.

“In SA, marriage laws traditionally provided parties with a variety of legal protections. These laws governed what happened to the property of the parties during the marriage and on dissolution, either by divorce or death, and also meant that certain benefits were automatically acquired, such as membership of medical aid funds, pension funds, etc.

“Married spouses also had a reciprocal duty of support under the common law.”

Preller said South African courts had occasionally helped couples by deciding that an express or implied universal partnership existed, but this was usually difficult to prove.

“The only way to be protected in our law is to enter into a cohabitation agreement. Such an agreement clarifies the expectations of the partners and also serves as an early warning of future problems.

“A cohabitation agreement will determine what would happen to the property and assets of the couple if they should decide to separate. The agreement is, however, not enforceable in so far as third parties are concerned.”

However, in terms of the 2005 Children’s Act, the parents of children born out of wedlock had a duty to maintain their offspring, “irrespective of the living arrangements”, Preller said.

“Basically a cohabitation agreement regulates rights and duties between the partners.

“It could almost be compared to an antenuptial contract entered into prior to the conclusion of a civil marriage.

“The agreement can provide for the division and distribution of assets upon dissolution: for instance, the formal agreement may set out the rights and obligations towards each other; the respective financial contributions to the joint home; clarify arrangements regarding ownership of property that they may purchase jointly and the division of their jointly owned assets should they separate,” said Preller.

“An agreement such as this will be legally binding as long as it contains no provisions that are immoral or illegal.

“If there is no agreement on the dissolution of a domestic partnership agreement, a party would only be entitled to retain those assets which he or she has purchased and owns and further would be entitled to share in the assets proportionately in terms of the contribution which they have made to the partnership.”

Preller said, however, that problems arose if a partner tried to enforce a domestic partnership agreement if the partner being sued was married to someone else.

“It has been argued that in such cases domestic partnership agreements violate public policy to the extent that they impair the community of property rights (where applicable) of the lawful married spouse.”

He said the Domestic Partnerships Bill was still being formulated, and it wasn’t clear how it would be implemented.

“In the current constitutional dispensation it is unlikely that a partner will be left in despair, taking into account the Domestic Partnerships Bill,” Preller said.

Fiona Renton, head of the legal services department at financial and risk services provider Alexander Forbes, said: “My advice would be for cohabiting couples to enter into a contract – a written partnership agreement that states exactly what will happen in the event of death or a split, protecting their rights and outlining their obligations.

“For example, when it comes to the ownership of property, the contract should state what happens to ownership of the property (such as one spouse buying out the other) or payments in the event of death or a split.

“Putting any relationship into writing is always helpful, even if it’s just adding someone on your medical aid as a dependant.

“Having said that, in the event of death, having a will is always the best idea.

“Out of the bounds of a legally recognised marriage there is no intestate succession – meaning there is no automatic participation in the estate to make sure the other partner is looked after.”

Joint accounts never a good idea

Money is one of the most important matters a couple needs to resolve when contemplating living together or marriage, according to Sugendhree Reddy, director of banking products at Standard Bank.

“One issue that often comes up in these kinds of discussions is whether to have a joint bank account. In many ways, this can seem like an appealing option.

“However, most financial experts don’t recommend having a joint account at all. We never encourage a joint account because whether you are married or living together, you both need to grow your assets and get a good credit rating. Having a joint account invariably makes it difficult for one of the partners to do so. Besides, a joint bank account puts one partner at great risk in the event of a break-up, death or financial difficulties.”

Reddy said there was no joint bank account with two equal account holders. “A ‘joint’ account is actually an account in one person’s name, to which the other person is a signatory. This causes a number of complications for that signatory. The most important of these is that without a bank account in your name, you will have no credit record at the bank – which makes it difficult to get credit at shops, open a cellphone account or apply for a loan.”

In the event of a break-up, Reddy said, the joint account could be emptied by one partner or the person in whose name the bank account is held could remove the second signatory.

If one partner dies, “banks tend to freeze the account until the estate is resolved – leaving the signatory partner with no access to the funds for an extended time”, said Reddy.

Reddy advises couples to split responsibility for monthly expenses, or open an account for the household into which both pay a portion of their salaries for general expenses.

Who gets your pension?

There are typically two types of benefits payable to “spouses”, says Fiona Renton, head of legal services at Alexander Forbes.

“Firstly pensions, which are payable to those who qualify as spouses – and that would depend on how each fund defines an ‘eligible spouse’: people must check the fund rules to see if their partner/spouse would qualify.

“Fund rules may stipulate that you must be married to the same person at date of retirement and date of death for them to qualify for a spouse’s pension. This prevents so-called ‘death-bed marriages’ where a pensioner marries someone much younger than them after they have already retired – and on their death the fund realises that there is a much younger spouse to whom they have a liability to pay a pension for many years.”

The second benefit type is the typical fund benefit (fund credit or share of fund) plus an insured multiple of a salary (three times annual salary, for example).

“This is allocated by the trustees, to your dependants and nominees.

“A dependant includes a spouse; the Pension Funds Act defines a spouse as ‘a person who is the permanent life partner or spouse or civil union partner of a member in accordance with the Marriage Act, Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, Civil Union Act or the tenets of a religion. A very wide definition.”

To ensure that no partner is overlooked, the pension fund member should always nominate a beneficiary in the relevant form to help the trustees – although trustees are not absolutely bound to follow that nomination, said Renton.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to death and money such decisions by fund trustees are often contested.”

No maintenance for a sacked lover

Not so long ago I wrote an article about the fact that in South African law there is in fact no such thing as a common law marriage and that partners that cohabitates or live together in a domestic partnership will in fact have no right to claim maintenance from one another. In fact, this was exactly what the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled this week in the matter of McDonald v Young (292/10) [2011] ZASCA 31 on 24 March 2011.

The facts of this case were as follows.

The parties were involved in a relationship and had cohabited, as man and wife, for approximately seven years from June 1999 until May 2006. After the relationship broke down, the appellant instituted an action against the respondent in the Western Cape High Court (Cape Town) for an order declaring that a joint venture agreement existed between the parties in respect of immovable property (the property) situate at Port Island, Port St Francis, in the Eastern Cape, alternatively, for an order that the respondent pay maintenance to the appellant. The high court (Veldhuizen J) found that the appellant had failed to prove the existence of a joint venture agreement and, in respect of the maintenance claim, that there was no duty on the respondent to support the appellant. The appellant appealed to the Supreme Court with the leave of the high court.

The issues on appeal, as in the high court, wer whether the appellant has established the existence of a joint venture agreement between the parties, alternatively, whether the respondent is under a duty (by operation of law, or alternatively, by virtue of a tacit contract) to support the appellant subsequent to their cohabitation.

Shortly after the parties were introduced to each other the appellant took up residence with the respondent at her farm in Knysna. The appellant’s main business interest was the promotion and marketing of surfing and surfboard products. During 1999, the appellant and his Durban-based brother had been in the process of establishing a new business, Inter Surf Africa Exporters (ISAE), which was involved in the manufacture and export of surfboards. The appellant did not possess any meaningful assets and had very limited income. The respondent, on the other hand, was a woman of considerable means. She had an annual cash income in excess of R1,3m and possessed substantial assets. When the appellant and the respondent met, they were 59 and 54 years of age, respectively. It was common cause that the appellant had not been in receipt of a regular income and had, for a time, during the course of the relationship, received a monthly allowance from the respondent.

The appellant’s claim to a half-share in the property was based on an express oral joint venture agreement concluded by the parties. The appellant testified that the terms of the agreement were that the respondent would contribute financially to the acquisition, completion and refurbishment of the property while the appellant would contribute his time and expertise to oversee the development of the property. According to the appellant, it was agreed that they would each share jointly in the property. The appellant testified that the primary objective of the agreement was to ensure that he gained financial independence. Despite the fact that the property was to have been registered in both their names, it was subsequently agreed, according to him, that the property would be registered in the respondent’s name for tax purposes. It was common cause that the initial written agreement had reflected both their names as purchasers of the property.

It was contended, on behalf of the appellant, that the high court had erred in failing to accept and rely on the appellant’s evidence regarding the agreement, having particular regard to the fact that his evidence was unchallenged. It was further contended that the respondent’s failure to testify was fatal to her case and that this court was obliged to accept his unchallenged evidence in respect of both the agreement and the claim for maintenance.

In our law it is settled that uncontradicted evidence is not necessarily acceptable or sufficient to discharge an onus. In Kentz (Pty) Ltd v Power, Cloete J undertook a careful review of relevant cases where this principle was endorsed and applied. The learned judge pointed out that the most succinct statement of the law in this regard is to be found in Siffman v Kriel, where Innes CJ said:

‘It does not follow, because evidence is uncontradicted, that therefore it is true . . . The story told by the person on whom the onus rests may be so improbable as not to discharge it.’

It was thus necessary to consider the appellant’s evidence in detail. It was clear from the judgment of the high court that it was mindful that the appellant’s evidence, in order to be reliable, had to be credible. The high court, on the evidence, reached the conclusion that the respondent had ‘initially intended that the contract should reflect the [appellant] as one of the purchasers’. However, it did not accept his evidence in its entirety and went on to find that the appellant had failed to prove the existence of a joint venture agreement.

In the Judge’s view, there were a number of unsatisfactory aspects in the appellant’s evidence. It was significant noted by the court how the appellant’s claim against the respondent has developed over time. During May 2006 and shortly after the parties parted ways, they met, in the presence of their respective attorneys, with a view to settle the disputes between them. The appellant’s evidence regarding the claim he had advanced at that meeting, was as follows:

‘So the idea was to try and settle the split between yourself and Mrs Young? — I accept ─ I looked at it like that because it did look like we weren’t going to get together again, so I assumed that that was the reason.

And what were your claims that day? — My claims that day with regards to my share of Port St Francis, with regards to my contribution I had made over the seven years and discussion on my contract with the bakkie.’

This was in stark contrast to his testimony in the magistrate’s court to the effect that he had, at the time of the meeting, been under the impression that he did not have a claim against the respondent and that the claim had ‘materialised some time afterwards when I . . . approached some attorneys for advice’. The appellant’s explanation for the contradiction, that he had meant to convey that he had not yet ‘implemented’ his claim, is, in my view, unsatisfactory. The very purpose of the meeting was an attempt to resolve the dispute between himself and the respondent without the need to resort to litigation.

On 17 July 2006, and following upon the May 2006 meeting, the appellant’s attorney wrote a letter to the respondent’s attorney, which was intended to ‘motivate and substantiate’ the appellant’s claim against the respondent ‘as comprehensively as possible’. (The Court’s emphasis.) It was recorded in the letter that the appellant believed that a universal partnership had existed between the parties and that he was entitled to ‘some form of compensation’ (The Court’s emphasis.) for his contribution to the partnership. It is instructive that no mention was made of the appellant’s half-share in the property, despite the fact that the appellant testified that he had given his attorney instructions in this regard and that he (the appellant) had had sight of the letter prior to it being dispatched. The development of the appellant’s claim over time is not without significance.

During the period that the parties were cohabiting, the appellant drafted numerous agreements and proposals, the purpose of which was to define the financial relationship between him and the respondent. On 24 July 2003, the respondent executed a sole agency mandate in terms of which she appointed the appellant as agent to sell the property and undertook to pay a commission of ten per cent to him. It was the appellant’s testimony that the commission he would have earned was to have provided him with financial security. The appellant agreed that he had, during October 2004, drafted an agreement, aimed at resolving the constant disputes he and the respondent had had regarding his financial security. The salient terms of this agreement were that (i) he was appointed as sole agent to sell two properties, including the property which is the subject of this dispute; (ii) he would be paid a commission of ten per cent for securing the sale of the properties; and (iii) the respondent would purchase government retail bonds to the value of R500 000 on behalf of the appellant. It was also his evidence that the relationship between him and the respondent had been particularly volatile at that time and his intention, in drafting this agreement, was to achieve clarification regarding his financial position.

It was surprising that the appellant failed to mention his half-share in the property in the October 2004 proposal. This was even more surprising when regard is had to his evidence that he was at that time concerned, as there was uncertainty regarding his financial future. The wording of this proposal, as well as the agency agreement, excludes the possibility that he had acquired a share in the property. It was in the court’s view extremely improbable that had the parties agreed in 1999 when the property was purchased that they would be joint owners thereof, the appellant would not, in 2004, have recorded his right to, or even a claim for, a half-share in a proposal aimed at settling outstanding matters between him and the respondent.

Counsel for the appellant attached great importance to the fact that the initial agreement had recorded both parties’ names as purchasers. The appellant assumed that both names were inserted on the instructions of the respondent. There was no evidence to support this assumption. Even if such instructions did emanate from the respondent, it does not necessarily follow, as was found by the high court, that this meant that there was an agreement between the parties as alleged by the appellant. The recording of both parties’ names is nothing more than an indicator pointing towards the conclusion of an agreement and it is a factor to be considered in conjunction with the probabilities.

There were a number of factors that support the respondent’s denial of the existence of a joint venture agreement between the parties. These included: the claim as articulated at the meeting with their legal representatives shortly after the break-up, the letter written after that meeting, various agreements drafted by the appellant, and the unsatisfactory and often contradictory evidence given by the appellant. The court mentioned that the appellant contradicted himself on one of the essential terms of the agreement, namely, whether it was agreed that he would be entitled to half of the proceeds of the sale of the property only or the property together with its contents.

The appellant bore the onus of proving the agreement upon which he relied as well as the terms thereof. Having regard to the deficiencies in the appellant’s evidence and the probabilities, it cannot be said that it measures up to the standard required for acceptability in respect of the existence of the joint venture agreement. In Da Mata v Otto NO, Van Blerk JA, dealing with the approach to be adopted when deciding probabilities, said:

‘In regard to the appellant’s sworn statements alleging the oral agreement, it does not follow that because these allegations were not contradicted ─ the only witness who could have disputed them had died ─ they should be taken as proof of the facts involved. Wigmore on Evidence, 3rd ed., vol. VII, p. 260, states that the mere assertion of any witness does not of itself need to be believed, even though he is unimpeached in any manner, because to require such belief would be to give a quantative and impersonal measure to testimony. The learned author in this connection at p. 262 cites the following passage from a decision quoted:

“It is not infrequently supposed that a sworn statement is necessarily proof, and that, if uncontradicted, it established the fact involved. Such is by no means the law. Testimony, regardless of the amount of it, which is contrary to all reasonable probabilities or conceded facts ─ testimony which no sensible man can believe ─ goes for nothing; while the evidence of a single witness to a fact, there being nothing to throw discredit thereon, cannot be disregarded.”’

The appellant’s testimony was contrary to all reasonable probabilities and, despite the fact that it was unchallenged, counts for ‘nothing’. In assessing the probabilities, the conclusion seems to be inescapable that the appellant has not discharged the onus resting on him. It follows that the appellant was not entitled to the relief sought in respect of the main claim.

The court considered the alternative claim for maintenance and dealt first with the argument that such a duty existed by operation of law. In South African law, certain family relationships, such as parent and child and husband and wife, create a duty of support. The common law has been extended in line with the Constitution to protect contractual rights of support in the same way as the common law duty of support. In Amod v Multilateral Motor Vehicle Accidents Fund (Commission for Gender Equality Intervening), this High Court of Appeal recognised a contractual right to support arising out of a marriage in terms of Islamic law for purposes of a dependant’s action. In Du Plessis v Road Accident Fund, the common law action by a spouse, for loss of support against the wrongdoer who unlawfully kills the other spouse, was extended to partners in a same-sex permanent life relationship similar in other respects to marriage, who had tacitly undertaken reciprocal duties of support. The Constitutional Court in Satchwell v President of the Republic of South Africa & another, found that the common law duty of support, could, in certain circumstances, be extended to persons in a same-sex relationship. Madala J, writing for the court, commented as follows:

‘The law attaches a duty of support to various family relationships, for example, husband and wife, and parent and child. In a society where the range of family formations has widened, such a duty of support may be inferred as a matter of fact in certain cases of persons involved in permanent, same-sex life partnerships. Whether such a duty of support exists or not will depend on the circumstances of each case.’

Counsel for the appellant relied on Kahn, Amod and Du Plessis in support of his contention that a legal duty of support rests on the respondent. This contention was misplaced. In both Amod and Khan, the parties in respect of whom a duty of support had been alleged had been married to each other in terms of Islamic law. The ratio of the court, in both cases, was that the marriage between the parties had given rise to reciprocal contractual duties of support on the part of the parties to that marriage. In Du Plessis, Cloete JA, having had regard to the facts of that matter, concluded that the plaintiff had proved that the deceased had undertaken to support him and that the deceased had owed the plaintiff a contractual duty of support. The learned judge of appeal said:

‘In the present case the case for drawing an inference that the plaintiff and the deceased undertook reciprocal duties of support is even stronger. The plaintiff and the deceased would have married one another if they could have done so. As this course was not open to them, they went through a “marriage” ceremony which was as close as possible to a heterosexual marriage ceremony. The fact that the plaintiff and the deceased went through such a “marriage” ceremony and did so before numerous witnesses gives rise to the inference that they intended to do the best they could to publicise to the world that they intended their relationship to be, and to be regarded as, similar in all respects to that of a heterosexual married couple, ie one in which the parties would have a reciprocal duty of support. That having been their intention, it must be accepted as a probability that they tacitly undertook a reciprocal duty of support to one another.

Further support for this finding is the fact that the plaintiff and the deceased thereafter lived together as if they were legally married in a stable and permanent relationship until the deceased was killed some 11 years later; they were accepted by their family and friends as partners in such a relationship; they pooled their income and shared their family responsibilities; each of them made a will in which the other partner was appointed his sole heir; and when the plaintiff was medically boarded, the deceased expressly stated that he would support the plaintiff financially and in fact did so until he died.’

Amod, Khan and Du Plessis were decided on the basis of contracts entered into by the respective parties, and are not authority for the contention that there is a duty of support, by operation of law, on the respondent to maintain the appellant.

The question whether the relationship between the parties, a heterosexual couple who choose to live together, free from the bonds of matrimony, gives rise to a legal duty of support, could in the Judge’s view, be answered with reference to Volks NO v Robinson & others. In that matter the Constitutional Court was concerned with the interpretation and constitutionality of s 2(1), read with s 1, of the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990, which confers on surviving spouses the right to claim maintenance from the estates of their deceased spouses if they are not able to support themselves. The court had to determine whether the exclusion of survivors of permanent life partnerships from the protection of the Act constituted unfair discrimination. Skweyiya J, writing for the majority, referred with approval to the comments made by O’Regan J in Dawood & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others; Shalabi & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others; Thomas & another v Minister of Home Affairs & others that:

‘Marriage and the family are social institutions of vital importance. Entering into and sustaining a marriage is a matter of intense private significance to the parties to that marriage for they make a promise to one another to establish and maintain an intimate relationship for the rest of their lives which they acknowledge obliges them to support one another, to live together and to be faithful to one another.

The institutions of marriage and the family are important social institutions that provide for the security, support and companionship of members of our society and bear an important role in the rearing of children. The celebration of a marriage gives rise to moral and legal obligations, particularly the reciprocal duty of support placed upon spouses and their joint responsibility for supporting and raising children born of the marriage. These legal obligations perform an important social function.’

The Constitutional Court was of the view that the law may distinguish between married people and unmarried people and may, in appropriate circumstances, accord benefits to married people which it does not accord to unmarried people. The learned justice reasoned as follows in para 55:

‘There are a wide range of legal privileges and obligations that are triggered by the contract of marriage. In a marriage the spouses’ rights are largely fixed by law and not by agreement, unlike in the case of parties who cohabit without being married.’

The court found that whilst there was a reciprocal duty of support between married persons, ‘no duty of support arises by operation of law in the case of unmarried cohabitants’. This was an unequivocal statement of the law by the Constitutional Court. Skweyiya J went on to state that to the extent that any obligations arise between cohabitants during the subsistence of their relationship, these arise by agreement and only to the extent of that agreement.

The court also considered whether a contractual duty of support towards the appellant existed. The argument, presented as a second alternative to the claim based on a joint venture, was that the court should find that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement in terms of which the respondent had agreed to support the appellant even after the end of their relationship.

The facts upon which the appellant relies in support of his claim that the respondent had assumed a duty of support towards him are the following:

(i) He and the respondent had lived together as if they were legally married in a stable and permanent relationship;

(ii) The respondent had supported him during the seven-year period that they had resided together and the appellant had been dependent on such support. She had given him an allowance, provided transport for him and paid for entertainment and overseas holidays;

(iii) The respondent had, in a series of wills, made extensive provision for financial support of the appellant in the event of her death;

(iv) The respondent was a wealthy woman while he had no assets and very limited income;

(v) He had contributed to the maintenance of and increase in value of the respondent’s estate, often at the expense of his own business interests; (vi) The appellant was reliant on an income from employment and could not, due to his advanced age, guarantee for how much longer he would be able to earn a living; and

(vii) The respondent had advised the appellant that she had sufficient funds to support both of them.

The argument that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement regarding maintenance cannot be sustained for a number of reasons. First, the reliance on a tacit contract is inconsistent with the appellant’s evidence. The appellant believed and gave evidence to the effect that he and the respondent had concluded an express agreement in respect of the property, the aim of which was to ensure that he was financially independent. Implicit in this is the intention that he would not have to rely on the respondent, or any other person, for financial support. In the circumstances, the appellant could not have formed the intention to contract tacitly with the respondent. Having regard to his evidence that the purpose of the joint venture agreement was to render him financially independent, the appellant could not at the same time have contemplated, that the respondent would continue to support him for the rest of his life. A tacit contract must not extend to more than the parties contemplated. In Rand Trading Co Ltd v Lewkewitsch the parties had erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence between them. The court did not accept the argument that the company’s conduct in recognising the existence of the lease, paying the rent and otherwise performing in terms of the contract had created a binding contract. Solomon J said:

‘But I think the answer to that argument is a very clear one, and it is this ─ that all these facts are explained on the simple ground that both parties erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence between them . . . And the mere fact . . . that both parties erroneously assumed that there was a contract in existence at that date altogether precludes us from now inferring a new contract.’

The appellant’s stated belief, that there was an express contract between him and the respondent in respect of the property, precludes this court from drawing an inference to the effect that the parties had entered into a tacit agreement the terms of which were inconsistent with the express agreement to which he testified. It was not open for the appellant to contend that if the court disbelieved his evidence that a joint venture agreement had been concluded, the court should infer from the proved facts that a tacit contract had come into existence, because such an inference cannot be drawn where it would conflict with what he said was the actual position. A litigant can plead, but not testify, in the alternative.

Secondly, the appellant’s evidence was that the respondent’s attitude had always been that in the event that their relationship ended, he would receive no financial benefit from her. This conduct, on the part of the respondent, is inconsistent with a tacit agreement to support the appellant. The appellant’s explanation for drafting the various proposals regarding the financial relationship between him and the respondent was as follows:

‘Well, the motivation behind it at that particular time, we were going through quite a patchy period; we were arguing and not agreeing on a lot of things. And it appeared to me that all of a sudden my situation could alter and I’d be left standing high and dry. And I discussed it with Lesley [the respondent] and I felt that if we had something in writing, and if that did occur at least I had something to fall back on . . . ’. (Emphasis added.)

It is trite that a tacit contract is established by conduct. In order to establish a tacit contract, the conduct of the parties must be such that it justifies an inference that there was consensus between them. There must be evidence of conduct which justifies an inference that the parties intended to, and did, contract on the terms alleged. It is clear from the appellant’s evidence that there was no consensus between the parties. The appellant, on his own testimony, was uncertain about his financial future. He realised that he would only be entitled to what had been agreed between the parties, hence his desire to have a written contract ‘to fall back on’. The respondent’s attitude, as testified to by the appellant, that he would leave the relationship without any financial benefit, is an indicator that she had not, tacitly or otherwise, agreed to support the appellant. I am not satisfied that this court can conclude, from all the relevant proven facts and circumstances, that a tacit contract, in terms of which the respondent undertook to financially maintain the appellant, for as long as he needed such maintenance, came into existence.

For those reasons, the appellant’s maintenance claim which is premised on a legal, alternatively, a contractual duty, failed.

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.