Grounds for Divorce in South Africa

GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE IN SOUTH AFRICA

Dissolution of marriage and grounds of divorce

A marriage may be dissolved by a court by a decree of divorce and the only grounds on which such a decree may be granted are the irretrievable break-down of the marriage as contemplated in section 4; the mental illness or the continuous unconsciousness, as contemplated in section 5, of a party to the marriage.

Irretrievable break-down of marriage as ground of divorce

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the irretrievable break-down of a marriage if it is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties to the marriage has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Section 4 (2) of the Divorce Act lays down three circumstances which a Court may accept as evidence of irretrievable breakdown of a marriage and these are that:- the parties have not lived together as husband and wife for a continuous period of at least one year immediately prior to the date of the institution of the divorce action. The Defendant has committed adultery and that the Plaintiff finds it irreconcilable with a continued marriage relationship the Defendant has in terms of a sentence of a Court been declared a habitual criminal and is undergoing imprisonment as a result of such sentence.

This does not mean however that:- the man and wife have to live in separate buildings but the Courts are in general not willing to (even on a undisputed basis), hear the case if the parties are still living in the same house on the date of the application. There must be a reasonable explanation, but even then some judges have refused to grant a decree of divorce. if the Plaintiff is a party to an adulterous relationship it is not fatal for a final divorce order and it may be proof of a real break-down of the marriage. It is correct to disclose the adulterous relationship to the Court. if irretrievable breakdown has been proved, that the court still has discretion to refuse the divorce. See Levy v Levy 1991 (1) SA 614 A where the Appeal Court had decided that a court had no discretion to deny a divorce where the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage has been proved.

Court’s discretion

In terms of section 4(3) of the Divorce Act the Court still has discretion not to grant a divorce order but postpone the proceedings sine die or even dismiss the claim if it appears to the Court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection. The Summons also usually contains the averment that further marriage counselling and/or treatment will not lead to any reconciliation. This evidence must also be tendered to the Court even on an unopposed basis.

The Court must therefore be satisfied that the marriage has really irretrievably broken down and that there is no possibility of the continuation of a normal marriage, before a final divorce order will be granted.

The court may postpone the proceedings in order that the parties may attempt reconciliation if it appears to the court that there is a reasonable possibility that the parties may become reconciled through marriage counselling, treatment or reflection.

Where the parties live together again after the issue of Summons, it does not necessarily end the underlying cause of the action. If the reconciliation after a few months is seemingly unsuccessful, they can proceed on the same Summons. It is now confirmed that the marriage has really broken-down irretrievably even after the parties have tried a final time to become reconciled. Where a divorce action which is not defended is postponed in order to afford the parties an opportunity to attempt reconciliation, the court may direct that the action be tried de novo, on the date of resumption thereof, by any other magistrate/ judge of the court concerned in terms of section 4(4) of the Divorce Act. The notice of set down should be served on the defendant.

A customary marriage may be dissolved only on account of an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage and only if the High, Family or Divorce Court is satisfied that the marriage relationship between the parties has reached such a state of disintegration that there is no reasonable prospect of the restoration of a normal marriage relationship between them.

Mental illness or continuous unconsciousness as grounds of divorce:

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground of the mental illness of the defendant if it is satisfied that the defendant, in terms of the Mental

Health Act 18 of 1973; has been admitted as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order; is being detained as a State patient at an institution or other place specified by the Minister of Correctional Services; or is being detained as a mentally ill convicted prisoner at an institution.

A divorce order may also be granted if such defendant has also for a continuous period of at least two years immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action, not been discharged unconditionally as such a patient,

State patient or mentally ill prisoner; and the court has heard evidence of at least two psychiatrists, of whom one shall have been appointed by the court, that the defendant is mentally ill and that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.

A court may grant a decree of divorce on the ground that the defendant is by reason of a physical disorder in a state of continuous unconsciousness, if it is satisfied that the defendant’s unconsciousness has lasted for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the divorce action; and after having heard the evidence of at least two medical practitioners, of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neurosurgeon appointed by the court, that there is no reasonable prospect that the defendant will regain consciousness.

The court may appoint a legal practitioner to represent the defendant at proceedings under this section and order the plaintiff to pay the costs of such representation.

The court may make any order it may deem fit with regard to the furnishing of security by the plaintiff in respect of any patrimonial benefits to which the defendant may be entitled by reason of the dissolution of the marriage.

For the purposes of this section the expressions ‘institution’, ‘mental illness’, ‘patient’, ‘State patient’ and ‘reception order’ shall bear the meaning assigned to them in the Mental Health Act, 1973.

The circumstances under which a court may grant a divorce order on the basis of mental illness or continuous unconsciousness is as follows:-

  •  In the case of mental illness the Defendant must have been admitted, in terms of the Mental Health Act, 1973 (Act No 18 of 1973), as a patient to an institution in terms of a reception order, for a period of at least two years and in any case two psychiatrists (one appointed by the Court) must satisfy the Court that there is no reasonable prospect that he will be cured of his mental illness.
  • In the case of unconsciousness the Court will only grant the order if the Defendant was unconscious for a continuous period of at least six months immediately prior to the institution of the action and also after hearing the evidence of two medical practitioners of whom one shall be a neurologist or a neuro-surgeon appointed by the Court who must declare that there is no reasonable prospect that the Defendant will regain consciousness.

In such cases a curator ad litem must be appointed to protect the interests of the Defendant (patient) and to assist the Court.

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.

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

Facebook Leads to Divorce in South Africa?

The number of divorces occurring because of Facebook and other social networking sites has been on the rise since these sites have become increasingly popular, research claims. These sites are being utilized more and more by unhappy individuals to seek out and have an affair and cheat on their partner.

Facebook is now being cited in almost one in five of online divorce petitions, attorneys have claimed.

People will post just about anything on social networking sites. And the information can be used against them.

The social networking site, which connects old friends and allows users to make new ones online, is being blamed for an increasing number of marital breakdowns.

Divorce lawyers claim the explosion in the popularity of websites such as Facebook and Bebo is tempting to people to cheat on their partners. Suspicious spouses have also used the websites to find evidence of flirting and even affairs which have led to divorce.

One law firm, which specialises in divorce, claimed almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.

An American insurance company, in defending its refusal to pay out a claim, is seeking to call in evidence personal online postings, including the contents of any MySpace or Facebook pages the litigants may have, to see if their eating disorders might have “emotional causes”. And the case is far from a lone one. Suddenly, those saucy pictures and intimate confessions on social networking sites can be taken down and used in evidence against you in ways never dreamed of.

Flirty emails and messages found on Facebook pages are increasingly being cited as evidence of unreasonable behaviour. Computer firms have even cashed in by developing software allowing suspicious spouses to electronically spy on someone’s online activities.

One 35-year-old woman even discovered her husband was divorcing her via Facebook. Conference organiser Emma Brady was distraught to read that her marriage was over when he updated his status on the site to read: “Neil Brady has ended his marriage to Emma Brady.”

Last year a 28-year-old woman ended her marriage after discovering her husband had been having a virtual affair with someone in cyberspace he had never met. Amy Taylor 28, split from David Pollard after discovering he was sleeping with an escort in the game Second Life, a virtual world where people reinvent themselves.

Around 14 million Britons are believed to regularly use social networking sites to communicate with old friends or make new ones. The popularity of the Friends Reunited website several years ago was also blamed for a surge in divorces as bored husbands and wives used it to contact old flames and first loves.

The UK’s divorce rate has fallen in recent years, but two in five marriages are still failing according the latest statistics. Mr Keenan believes that the general divorce rate will rocket in 2010 with the recession taking the blame.

In the US, a sex assault victim seeking compensation faces the prospect of her MySpace and Facebook pages being produced in court. In Texas, a driver whose car was involved in a fatal accident found his MySpace postings (“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunkaholic”) part of the prosecution’s case.

According to an article in USA  research by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers conveys that, over the last five years, 81% of divorce lawyers have either utilized or encountered evidence from social networking sites. Facebook is the most cited, appearing in 66% of cases using subpoenaed Internet evidence.

Now, the problem here is not the sites themselves. Marriages break up for the most ancient of reasons, power struggles, lack of kindness, loss of love, hurt, money problems, infidelity and the like. The Internet doesn’t cause marital problems (people do) but it can make matters worse.

Infidelity is without doubt, easier because of the sheer access to so many potential lovers. Gambling takes on new forms (like a poker addiction) found in one’s living room computer. But anonymity is not what one likes to think, because the Internet also makes it easier for the offending spouse to get caught.

The double life you try to lead on the Internet might just come back to haunt you. Lawyers know how to find information you’ve posted on social networking sites that you thought had been kept hidden. Sage advice: Like driving a car, it is a good idea to know about the power of technology before using it and finding yourself in trouble.

Source: TechJournal

Compiled by:

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 and has written a number of articles in local newspapers on Family Law issues in South Africa. 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.

Adultery or an “inappropriate relationship”may have serious consequences

Pastor Benny Hinn Sued by Christian Book Publisher Strang Co.

Televangelist Benny Hinn is being sued by Strang Communications, a Christian publishing company that alleges that Hinn violated a morality clause in their contract when he began an “inappropriate relationship” with Without Walls pastor Paula White.

In August, The National Enquirer published photos of Hinn and White holding hands in Rome. Hinn was married to Suzanne Hinn at the time. His wife had filed for divorce in February 2010.

“I will not deny that the friendship has strengthened, and, while it has remained morally pure at all times, I have enjoyed the company of someone who has also gone through the trauma of a painful and public divorce,” Hinn said in a statement at the time.

Hinn acknowledged to his publisher “his inappropriate relationship” with White in August, the suit, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, says. Strang Co. (now known as Charisma Media) says that it should receive $250,000 of unrecouped royalties but Hinn has refused to pay the amount.

Hinn had signed a three-book deal and was paid a $300,000 advance for Blood in the Sand (2009). The suit includes a letter where Strang said Hinn violated the contract by failing to work hard enough to market the book, according to the Sentinel.

He failed to make television appearances to promote it, including several on 700 Club, the television show that Pat Robertson founded.

Paula White and her husband divorced in 2007, and she left Without Walls, returning in 2009 after her husband announced his departure due to poor health. White also described the National Enquirer piece as false.

“We were never alone and were in the constant company of staff and other associates,” she said in a statement at the time. “I value my friendship with Pastor Benny and remain supportive with a deep respect of him, his family and his ministry. My relationship with Pastor Benny is genuine and pure and should not be taken out of context.”

Hinn and White were cited in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s investigation of televangelists, which recently concluded.

Source: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2011/02/benny_hinn_sued.html

 

Adultery in South Africa, can I claim against a third party in a divorce

adultery

From a moral, ethical and religious perspective adultery is a sin and an act contrary to the basis of trust between married spouses and so is the behaviour of that infamous third party that broke up the marriage seen as immoral.  The purpose of this article is to revisit the law in respect of an aggrieved parties’ right to institute a claim for damages against the third party that was privy in the break-up of a marriage, i.e a claim against the mistress for monetary relief, to make good the hardship caused by the affair and the enticement of the spouse to leave the communal home in search of the greener pastures. The article is purely focussed on the law and not the public view or for that matter the religious viewpoint.

Our law has recognised in the past a claim for damages that can be instituted by an aggrieved spouse against a mistress. But what does our law say on the subject and is the law evolving away from the public view and religious views.

It is argued that the South African common law on which a Plaintiff’s claim is predicated for damages against a spouse who committed adultery in a marriage must be developed to promote the spirit, purport and objective of the Bill of Rights contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa, 1996 (“the Constitution”) and the interests of justice (under Section 39 (2) and section 173 of the Constitution).

According to the view expressed above it is argued that the time has come to develop the common law so as to remove or curtail claims for damages by a married person, utilising the actio iniuriarum, against a person involved in an intimate relationship with the married person’s spouse. The actio iniuriarum is used to claim for the impairment of one’s personality.  The purpose of this action is to compensate for the intentional injury to one’s mental integrity.

The argument against such a claim is that it breaches the right to human dignity (of the adulterer and mistress) under Section 10 of the Constitution, in that:

  1. The relationship and love between the adulterer and mistress is treated as morally reprehensible or without opprobrium.
  2. The mistress is held wholly responsible for damage caused to an aggrieved spouse by the other spouse’s marital infidelity; and
  3. The mistress is treated as an instrument, in that her human relationship with the adulterer is used as a means to express condemnation for the adulterer’s marital infidelity, and/or to generate sympathy for the aggrieved spouse.

It is further argued that such a claim breach the adulterer and mistress’s rights to equality and freedom from discrimination under Section 9 of the Constitution on basis of marital status, conscience and belief in that:

  1. No similar claim for damages is possible against a person who begins an intimate relationship with a man or a woman   involved in a long-term homosexual or heterosexual relationship, customary law marriage or religious union;
  2. The emotional consequences and loss for the aggrieved partner (i.e the person who learns of the infidelity of his or her partner with a third person) in all of the above relationships may be no more or less serious than a spouse in a marital relationship;
  3. The law accordingly differentiates between a person who enters a relationship with a married person; and a person who enters a relationship with a person in other types of committed, long-term relationships;
  4. The differentiation amounts to unfair discrimination on the basis of marital status and on the basis that it impairs, or has the potential to impair, the fundamental human dignity of an adulterer and a mistress.

It can further be argued that an adulterer and mistress’ right to privacy under Section 14 of the Constitution is violated in that it causes a public inquiry into the details of their relationship, how it formed and its strength.

Furthermore it seems that an adulterer and mistress’ rights to freedom of conscience, thought, belief and opinion under Section 15 of the Constitution, expression under Section 16 (1) of the Constitution and freedom of association under Section 18 of the Constitution also come into play for the following reasons:

  1. Burdening people such as the mistress with damages will have a detrimental effect on her ability to honestly and openly express her emotions and love for another person;
  2. The expression of emotions and love between the adulterer and mistress will be treated as morally reprehensible or tainted with moral opprobrium.

Therefore it seems that the common law must be developed in the interests of justice taking in to account the recognition that both parties contribute to the breakdown of the marriage relationship, which is inherent in the ground for divorce introduced in Section 4 of the Divorce Act 70 of 1979, namely “the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”.

It is so that many foreign jurisdictions don’t tolerate such claims anymore and that there seems to be developments in South African case law to that effect. The historic view in our law that damages are awarded on the basis of the insult caused to the innocent party and of the loss of consortium seems to be outdated and time will tell on how our courts will develop the common law.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

www.divorceattorney.co.za

info@divorceattorney.co.za