Family Law

January is “Divorce Month”: Beware the Dangers of DIY

By | Family Law

January is “Divorce Month”: Beware the Dangers of DIY

“What’s the only thing divorce proves? Whose mother was right in the first place” (Anon)

The festivities are over, the bills are coming in and everyone is returning to reality. Couples who for most of the year only have to live with each other after work hours, have suddenly spent a whole lot more 24/7 time in each other’s close company. Little irritations have magnified, habits have got on each other’s nerves, in-laws visiting for the annual family bun fight have heightened tensions…

Whatever the reasons, and whether only one party was at fault or both, January’s worldwide reputation as “divorce month” applies equally here in South Africa. Which means that the legal and personal risks associated with divorce are peaking now, in January.

On the legal side of things a particular risk to be aware of is the temptation for couples splitting on an “uncontested” (i.e. by mutual agreement) basis to opt for a “DIY” divorce. 

Beware, that’s a siren’s call…

The dangers of a DIY divorce

Divorce is full of both legal and practical pitfalls, and any mistakes a divorcing couple makes now could well live with them, their children, and their extended families for life.

The hard fact is that whilst DIY divorce may seem affordable and workable, specific legal assistance and guidance is worth every cent it costs – and particularly in uncontested matters the cost of proper legal help certainly won’t break the bank. Without such advice, the average couple risks the exact opposite of “affordable” in the form of a great deal more expense (not to mention stress and heartache) than had they consulted an attorney upfront.

To illustrate some of the many relevant issues the couple must take into account –

  1. Formalities: Getting divorced means complying with a list of formalities and requirements, and appearance in either the High Court or the Divorce Court. Getting anything wrong here is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Consent paper: A settlement agreement (often called a “deed of settlement” or “consent paper”), setting out what the couple has agreed to regarding children, maintenance, division of assets etc, should be made an order of court to give it the status of an enforceable judgment. The agreement should cover everything important, clearly and unambiguously – overlooking something vital (easy for the layperson to do) will come back to haunt everyone.
  3. Children: The most vulnerable parties in any familial breakup, children enjoy special protections in our law, and parents need to take into account questions of parental responsibilities and rights including “care and contact” (the new terms for “custody and access”), guardianship, maintenance, formal “parenting plans”, health care and the like.
  4. Maintenance: In addition to child maintenance, one spouse may have a claim on the other for spousal maintenance, either on an interim basis or longer-term.
  5. Financial implications and division of assets: Particularly where valuable assets are involved (a house or other property perhaps, or rights to a pension fund) the divorcing couple should agree on a split, on how property transfers will work, who will pay for what, who will assume financial obligations like home bonds etc. Which “marital regime” the couple was married under becomes important here, as does the question of whether or not there is an ANC (ante-nuptial contract) in place. A whole host of other legal and practical issues are also at stake. 

A final thought on controlling costs…

If you have a particular need to control costs, be open with your attorney and ask for advice on whether you can minimise them in any way.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Visiting South Africa with Kids Just Became Easier – Here’s What You Need to Know

By | Family Law, General Interest

“We’re all going on a summer holiday…” (Cliff Richard)

With the Festive Season (and our Summer Holidays!) well and truly upon us, you may be inviting family or friends to visit you from overseas with their children, or perhaps you are a foreigner planning a family trip to South Africa. Either way here’s some good news in the form of a welcome concession from government in regard to the documentation you will need to produce on entry. 

In a nutshell foreign children until now have only been able to enter the country with unabridged birth certificates and consent letters. That requirement was waived – for accompanied children only (check the full details in the table below) – from 8 November 2019. 

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) says it has communicated this very welcome new development to all role players, most importantly to the immigration officials at ports of entry who are tasked with enforcing the rules, but if you do happen to have documentation handy it can’t hurt to bring it along in case of any queries. If you need visas to visit you will anyway have to produce the documents when applying.

South African children (and unaccompanied foreign children) must still provide a list of required supporting documents – see below.

Note that the above is just a summary – it is extremely important that you check the DHA table below for full details, and that you ask your lawyer for help if you think any exemptions may apply, if you have any difficulty in understanding what is required, or if you cannot get the necessary documentation together.


(Source – Department of Home Affairs)

About To Marry? Don’t Forget Your ANC and the 3 Types of Marriage

By | Family Law

“And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need” (P.G. Wodehouse)

Wedding Season being once again well and truly upon us, the chances are high that even if you yourself aren’t contemplating marriage you know of someone who is. If so, please think of forwarding this article to them.

Planning and preparing for your wedding is an exciting and busy time, and your ‘To Do’ list will be a long one. Plus you will be stressed for time, and distracted, and it will be tempting to put the “boring” legal bits and pieces low down on your list. 

Don’t do that! A visit to your lawyer is an essential, not a “nice to have” to be squashed in between “Book Airbnb for Auntie Jo” and “Bath dog”. First on the agenda for your legal consultation will be an ANC…

Your ANC – what it is and why it is vital  

Your ANC or “antenuptial contract” is an agreement you enter into with your future spouse, before you get married, which regulates your financial (and to some extent your personal) affairs.  

Do not be put off the idea of an ANC because you think it might be an admission that your marriage may fail. For two very good reasons it is nothing more nor less than a vitally important part of your future planning –

  1. Firstly, no matter how strong your marriage may be, our divorce statistics make it very unwise to discount the possibility – however remote – that for some unforeseeable reason and at some unforeseeable time in the future, one or both of you will be visiting a divorce lawyer. Whose first question will be “Let me see your ANC”.
  2. Secondly, an uninformed choice now will have serious consequences for you, for your spouse and in due course for your children both throughout your marriage and when (not if) one of you dies. 

Choosing the marital regime that is right for you

Our law allows you three options, which we discuss below. 

Bear in mind that this is a summary only and that no article can do full justice to the many individual factors you should take into account. That’s why a visit to your attorney – well before you actually tie the knot – is vital. Ask what the right option is for your particular needs and circumstances, and have your ANC tailored accordingly.  

Your 3 choices, and a trap for the unwary

  1. Marry in community of property: All of your assets and liabilities are merged into one “joint estate”, in which each of you has an undivided half share.  Everything (with only a few specific exceptions) that you bring into or acquire during your marriage falls into this joint estate.  You will need your spouse’s written consent for some important transactions.  On divorce or death the joint estate (including any profit or loss) is split equally between you, regardless of what each of you brought into the marriage, or contributed to it thereafter.  If one of you runs up debts or gets into financial difficulties, it is the joint estate that must pay – you could lose everything if your joint estate is sequestrated.  That all makes this option unsuitable for many couples. The big danger for the unwary is that it is the default regime – so you will automatically be married in community of property if you don’t specify otherwise in an ANC executed before you marry.
  2. Marry out of community of property without the accrual system: Your own assets and liabilities, both what you bring in and what you acquire during the marriage, remain exclusively yours to do with as you wish – so you don’t need your spouse’s consent for any of your own transactions.  You are not liable for your spouse’s separate debts and if your spouse’s estate is sequestrated you can claim your separate assets back (you will need to prove that they are indeed yours).  Note that the “accrual system” (see option 3 below) will apply to you unless your ANC specifically excludes it.  Excluding accrual will be the right choice for some, but be aware that without accrual the poorer spouse (usually a spouse whose contribution to the marriage was more on the home-making side rather than financial) risks being left destitute after many years of marriage.
  3. Marry out of community of property with the accrual system: Firstly, although this is often seen as being the fairest and most popular option for modern marriages, it is not necessarily the best choice for everyone.  As with the previous option, your own assets and liabilities remain solely yours, you don’t need your spouse’s consent for any transactions relating to them, and you can protect your own assets from your spouse’s creditors. On divorce or death you share equally in the “accrual” (growth) of your assets (with a few exceptions) during the marriage, as the example below illustrates –

Already married?

Different principles apply to your marriage if you were married before 1 November 1984 – ask your attorney for details.  

If you for any reason want to change from one marital regime to another, or if you want to enter into a “postnuptial contract”, that may be an option for you – ask your attorney.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Dementia and Incapacity: What is a Power of Attorney and is it Forever?

By | Family Law

“The number of cases of dementia is estimated to almost triple by 2050” (World Health Organisation)

Although the actual prevalence per capita of dementia is reportedly on the decline, aging populations ensure that it is becoming more and more of a problem in society – for older people, their families and caregivers. 

If someone close to you (normally an aging parent or relative) needs – or may in the future need – assistance with their financial affairs, your first thought will probably be a power of attorney by which the “principal” appoints an “agent” to act for him/her, either for a particular purpose (a ‘special power of attorney’) or generally (a ‘general power of attorney’). You may well have the same thought if you yourself are approaching old age and starting to plan for your future needs.

A power of attorney is certainly a quick, cheap and easy solution but be careful – it’s only a temporary one. It is not “forever”!

The downside – automatic termination (just when help is most needed)

Of course a principal can cancel his/her own power of attorney at any time, but what is not so well known is that it terminates automatically if and when the principal –

  1. Dies (an executor is then appointed); or 
  2. Becomes insolvent and his/her estate is sequestrated (a trustee is then appointed); or
  3. Becomes mentally incapacitated in the sense of being no longer able to make his/her own decisions for whatever reason – perhaps a stroke, coma following an accident, mental illness, dementia, Alzheimer’s, general age-related diminishing capacity etc.

It’s this last scenario that catches most people unawares, because it seems so illogical for the power of attorney to lapse just when it’s needed most.

But that, unfortunately, is the law. An agent can only do what the principal can do, so if a principal loses legal capacity, the power of attorney immediately fails. Or as a Department of Justice document neatly puts it: “In South Africa the power of attorney remains valid only for as long as the principal is still capable of appreciating the concept and consequences of granting another person his or her power of attorney”. 

In practice there are probably many cases of powers of attorney continuing to be used to everyone’s benefit long after the principal has lost formal capacity, but an agent in that situation acts without authority and risks personal liability for doing so if the validity of anything done under the failed power of attorney is challenged.

So what are the alternatives?

  • The High Court can appoint a “curator” when a person becomes unable to manage his/her own affairs. A curator bonis handles all the person’s financial affairs, a curator ad personam his/her personal affairs (such as giving consent for medical treatment, where to live etc). Unfortunately curatorships are costly, prone to bureaucratic red tape and delay, paternalistic and, being public, demeaning to the principal. 
  • A simpler and cheaper alternative is the appointment by a Master of the High Court of an “administrator” in terms of the Mental Health Care Act. An administrator only has power to deal with the person’s property (not personal affairs), and this alternative is only available in cases of actual “mental illness” or severe/profound intellectual disability, and only for smaller estates (assets up to R 200,000 and annual income up to R 24,000).
  • A trust to address the purely financial aspects might also be worth considering whilst the person in question still has legal capacity. Take advice however on the costs, tax and other implications.

What about an “enduring” or “conditional” power of attorney?

In 2004 the South African Law Reform Commission recommended changes to our law to allow for alternatives like – 

  1. An “enduring power of attorney” (or “EPA”) which would remain valid despite the subsequent incapacity of the principal; and 
  2. A “conditional power of attorney” which would come into operation only on the incapacity of the principal.

Unfortunately nothing concrete has as yet come of that, and although some legal commentators suggest that our courts might perhaps uphold a properly-worded EPA, the general consensus appears to be that they will not be recognised.  

It boils down to this – take full legal advice on your particular circumstances.  

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews