When billionaires divorce

When dealing with high net worth and multimillionaires divorce matters a divorce attorney must make sure to employ the best possible experts as part of the legal team, this is especially so if the assets at stake run into millions. I was involved as the divorce attorney of a client in a recent matter where two British citizens divorced in South Africa with assets across the globe that ran into millions of rands. In matters such as these various expert witnesses may be employed to lead evidence on behalf of a party to the divorce proceedings, consisting of forensic auditors, valuers, art experts, industrial psychologists, child psychologists, immigration experts etc.

In this matter I was fortunate to work with one of Britton’s top leading Family Law Barristers Richard Todd QC who rendered an opinion on the division of the matrimonial assets in this divorce case as far as it relates to UK law. Richard is an Oxford scholar who won the Hugh Bellott Prize (Highest Placed in the Oxford University Public International Law Finals) and who obtained the highest awards available to a practising Silk: The Chambers & Partners “Family Law Silk of the Year “ and The Lawyer’s “Hottest Family Law QC”. Richard have given expert evidence of English law to the courts of Australia, Belgium, the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Cyprus, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and the USA and appeared in over 4000 matrimonial cases with a long list of report cases, needless to say the identity of former clients is confidential. However former clients include twelve Billionaires (Sterling) and two Oscar winning actors (plus another three who have been nominated).

In this matter the parties were married in England and subsequently immigrated to South Africa. In such a case the matrimonial property regime of England would apply to their marriage and English law would always apply to their marriage. In a case such as this and where the divorce is contested a South African court could divorce them but, the court would have to apply English Law. It is interesting to note that if a South African couple is on holiday in England and decides to get married, they would automatically marry in community of property and not according to English law.

The test is the husband’s domicile as at the date of the marriage, i.e. what country the husband considered to be his permanent home plus his mental intention to remain there indefinitely. Domicile is defined as the principal place of residence of an individual. This is determined primarily by intent.

Thus, if the husband regarded his place of domicile to be Cape Town at the time of the marriage, the parties would be married according to the laws of South Africa and not England and their type of marriage (matrimonial property regime) would be one in community of property. For the marriage to have been out of community of property, the parties would have had to enter into an antenuptial contract in South Africa before leaving for holiday. If they failed to do so, they would have to apply to court to register an antenuptial contract, postnuptially.

About the author:

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 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 and magazines such as Noseweek, You and Huisgenoot, and also appeared on SABC television on the 3 Talk TV show. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high networth 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, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

Email: bertus(@)divorceattorney.co.za

Divorce and Pension Funds – Landmark Case For Government Employees

Divorce and Pension Funds –Landmark Case For Government Employees

In a divorce, where one spouse was awarded a portion of the pension benefits of the other spouse, who is a member of a Pension Fund in the private sector the waiting period for payment of such benefits would normally be 3 to 6 months. However, when the spouse is a member of a Government Pension Fund the spouse that was awarded such benefits had to wait until resignation, termination of employment or death of the other spouse before the benefits could be paid. This has now changed by a landmark decision handed down by Judge Bozalek in the Cape Town High Court in the matter of  Wiese v Government Employees Pension Fund. The Goverment was granted a period of 12 months to change the legislation.

In this case it was declared that the Government Employees Pension Law,  Proclamation 21 of 1996, was inconsistent with section 9(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, insofar as it fails to afford to former spouses of members of the Government Employees Pension Fund  the same rights and advantages as are afforded to former spouses of members of funds subject to the Pension Funds Act, 24 of 1956, more particularly those contained in section 37D(1)(d), (3) (4) and (5), and is invalid to the extent of that inconsistency.

The applicant was a former spouse of a member of the Government Employees Pension Fund (‘the Fund’), the first respondent, who, in March 2008, in terms of a settlement agreement which formed part of a divorce decree, was awarded a 25% share of her spouse’s pension interest in the Fund. The applicant was unable to realise this interest, however, since the legislation governing the Fund, unlike that governing private pension funds, only allows for the realisation of such an interest as and when an ‘exit event’ takes place in relation to the former spouse, such as resignation, termination of employment or death, and no such event has occurred.

As a result of financial hardship the applicant has at all time unsuccessfully sought to realize her share of her former spouse’s pension interest in the Fund. Having exhausted all other avenues she seeked an order that the governing legislation, the Government Employees Pension Law, Proclamation 21 of 1996, (‘the Law’) is inconsistent with s 9(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and is invalid to that extent. She seeked, furthermore, an order whereby, broadly speaking, certain provisions in the Pension Funds Act 24 of 1956, (‘the PFA’) which allow for the immediate realization of pension benefits awarded on divorce to the non-member spouses of members of private pension funds, be read into the ‘Law’.

The applicant’s case was that differential treatment of a non-member spouse of a Fund member to that of a non-member spouse of a member of a pension fund governed by the PFA violates the affected party’s right, in terms of s 9(1) of the Constitution, to the equal protection and benefit of the law. More particularly, she contended that the applicant’s right of access to social security as entrenched in s 27 (1)(c) of the Constitution, and that of others in her position, was violated.

Given that the ‘clean break’ principle is applied to the divorced spouses of private pension fund members, there appears to be no rational reason why this should be withheld from their counterparts on divorce from a member of the Fund (or any other public pension fund, for that matter).

Bertus Preller

B.Proc; AD Dip L Law

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.

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

O: +27 (0) 21 422 1323

F: 086 572 8373

E: bertus@divorceattorney.co.za



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

Business Times Interview – by Adele Shevel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bertus Preller

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

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

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

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

Divorce and the impact of the recession – Sunday Times Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divorce Statistics in South Africa

The South African Divorce Rate

Marriages in South Africa

In 2008, 186 522 marriages were registered in South Africa. This number includes 959 marriages of South African citizens solemnised outside the borders of South Africa but were registered in South Africa. Information from the Department of Statistics show that the number of registered marriages has generally been increasing over the last ten years (1999–2008). In 1999, 140 458 marriages were registered. This number had increased to 186 522 in 2008 showing an annual increase of 2,9% since 1999. The 2008 186 522 shows an increase of 3 492 (1,9%) from 183 030 marriages recorded in 2007.

Age at the time of marriage

In 2008, marriages of 930 men and 6 774 women aged less than 21 years were registered. Women enter marriage for the first time at younger ages than men. In 2008, the median age for grooms was 34 years compared to 29 years for brides. Major differences however, are observed when the marital status at the time of current marriage is considered. For first time marriages, the median age for bachelors was 32 years and that of spinsters was 29 years giving a difference of three years. The age at first marriage for both men and women has remained the same as 2006. For remarriages, the median age of divorce men was 52 years compared to 46 years for their female counterparts yielding an age gap of six years. Similarly, the median ages for widowers and widows were 45 years and 29 years respectively resulting in a 16 years’ gap. Despite the fact that men tend to marry younger women, in 2008 14,6% of bridegroom were younger than their brides whilst 7,1% were of the same age.


Trends in divorces (1999-2008)

The published data on divorces indicate that the number of granted cases has been fluctuating between 37 098 and 28 924 per annum in the past decade (1999-2008). The distribution of couples divorcing by population group shows that there were more divorces among the African population group compared to the other groups. Despite the general fluctuations, the proportions of divorces from the mixed and the African groups have been increasing whilst that of the White group has been declining in the past ten years. In 1999 the African, Indian/Asian, White and mixed groups made up 18,4%; 5,3%; 39,9% and 1,0% of the number of divorces respectively. However, in 2008 the contribution of the African, Indian/Asian and mixed groups increased to 35,0%; 6,2% and 3,1% respectively whilst that of the White group declined to 32,8%.

Who is suing who?

The 2008 data reveal that there were more female (50,6%) than male (37,8%) plaintiffs. However, there were significant differences among population groups. Among African plaintiffs, more husbands (43,5%) than wives (41,1%) initiated the divorce. This is in sharp contrast to the other population groups, particularly among the White (58,0%) and the Coloured (57,9%) whereby most divorces were initiated by women.

Even though a high proportion of the plaintiffs did not indicate the type of occupation they were engaged in at the time of divorce, the highest percentage of wives (19,8%) were in clerical and sales occupations whereas husbands (14,9%) were in managerial and administrative occupations. Very few plaintiffs were in farming and related occupations.

Number of times married

The 2008 divorce cases were mainly from first marriages. The pattern of remarriages among husbands was quite similar to that of the wives. Slightly fewer (76,4%) husbands were from first marriages compared to 77,1% of wives. Approximately 9,0% were second time divorcees for both husbands and wives. About 2,0% of husbands and wives were getting divorced for at least the third time.

Age at the time of divorce

The median age at divorce in 2008 was 41 for men and 38 for women. African men had the highest median age (43) at divorce. Women from the mixed and India/Asian group had the lowest median age (36 years).

Duration of marriage of those divorcing

The median duration of marriage in 2008 was 9 years. The largest number of divorces (7 859 or 27,2%) lasted five to nine years. This group is followed by marriages that lasted less than five years (6 143 or 21,2%). Thus, almost half (48,4%) of the 28 924 divorces in 2008 were from marriages that lasted less than 10 years. As the duration of marriages increased the number of divorces decreased. Irrespective of the population group of the divorcees, the distribution of divorces continues to be skewed towards earlier years of marriage.

Divorces involving couples with children

In 2008, there were 26 947 children (younger than 18 years old) involved in divorce. It is observed that 16 370 (56,6%) of the 28 924 divorces had children younger than 18 years indicating that, on the average, there was between one and two children per divorce.

Source: http://www.edivorce.co.za

Divorce, moneys lent and advanced to the other spouse

It is not uncommon for parties in a marriage to advance to advance to the other spouse amounts of money from time to time. Between the two spouses this would normally be regarded as a transaction of borrowing money or lending, but the legal implications might be otherwise depending on the matrimonial system (married in community or out of community of property) applicable to the marriage.

Where the spouses are married to each other in community of property, the joint estate is divided on the date of divorce as it exists on date of divorce, including all the assets and liabilities. Parties who are married in community of property obtain an undivided half share in all the assets which constitute the joint estate and in most instances become jointly liable for all debts incurred. So if the spouses were married in community of property and enter into an agreement in terms whereof the one party lends an amount of money to the other, the right to claim such an amount is an asset of the joint estate and the liability to pay the amount is a liability of the joint estate. It therefore follows that it is impossible to enforce such a claim on divorce as a result of the fact that the parties are married in community of property.

Where spouses are married out of community of property it is possible to claim as a result of the fact that the parties are married out of community of property and does not share in the profit or loss. The right to claim such an amount would be an asset for purposes of determining the value of a spouse’s estate.  Where parties’ were married before 1 November 1984 a claim in respect of moneys lent will form a basis of a claim to claim a transfer of assets in terms of section 7 (3) of the Divorce Act. Where parties married after 1 November 1984 a claim to recoup moneys advanced would be simple if proved.

It is also interesting to note that a claim for moneys advanced where the parties married out of community of property, cannot prescribe in terms of the Prescription Act 68 of 1969.

It is therefore important to note that where a party is married in community of property and that party advanced moneys to the other spouse that a claim cannot be instituted for the recovery thereof.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Abrahams and Gross Inc.



International Divorce in South Africa, Spouse Living Overseas

A spouse living in South Africa is able to institute divorce proceedings through the divorce courts in South Africa if a spouse lives overseas. The same applies when you are a South African citizen that lives overseas and one spouse resides in South Africa.

In terms of the South African Divorce Act, a South African court will have jurisdiction where the parties or either of the parties are domiciled in the area of the court’s jurisdiction on the date on which the action is instituted or ordinarily resident in the area of jurisdiction of the court on the date on which the action is instituted or has been ordinarily resident in the Republic for a period of not less than one year immediately prior to that date.

The above also implies that foreigners (people who are not South African citizens) and who have been living in South Africa for more than a year, may divorce through the South African courts.

After service has taken place, your spouse will have a month to defend. If he ignores the summons or, if he  defends it, after reaching settlement of the financial terms, the attorney can set the matter down for a trial date that has been pre-arranged.

The person instituting the divorce proceedings are called the Plaintiff. Where the parties reached a settlement, only the Plaintiff appears in Court. So, if a Plaintiff lives abroad he/she will have to appear once the matter is placed on the Court roll. The same applies if the Plaintiff resides in South Africa. In an uncontested divorce it is not necessary for the Defendant to appear in court.

  • Where a Defendant (the person against whom the divorce is instituted) lives in another country, a Plaintiff must approach the court by way of what is known in law as an Edictal Citation application. The reason for this is that a Summons in divorce proceedings must be served on the Defendant personally and the Court needs to be satisfied that service will be done properly by an official of the court in that foreign country. Edictal citation is therefore a procedure according to which a legal document such as a divorce summons is served by a sheriff (in some countries known as a “service processor” or a solicitor) in a different country.
  • There is also another method to serve summons on the Defendant by serving the Summons on an address in South Africa which the Defendant had chosen in terms of a Power of Attorney.

Where the divorce is uncontested, the process is relatively easy. But where the divorce is of a contested nature it is more problematic.  After serving of the summons in a foreign country, a spouse will have a month to defend the action. If he or she ignores the summons or, if he or she defends it, after reaching settlement on the financial terms the matter may be setdown for a date that has been pre-arranged with the Registrar of the High Court.

If your spouse  disappeared, the court will order that the divorce summons be served by way of substituted service (i.e. other than by way of personal service) so it may order, e.g., that it be served on a relative of your spouse or by way of publication in a newspaper that your spouse used to read.

Where your spouse has disappeared, you will have to satisfy the court that you have done everything in your power to trace him or her as personal service is clearly preferable and the least prejudicial form of service.

Abrahams and Gross Attorneys specialises in international divorce matters concerning South African citizens and has acted in matters for South Africans living in countries such as Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Indonesia, The United Emirates, Germany, New Zeeland, Spain, Namibia and Germany to mention but a few.



Hotline: +27834439838