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In a significant legal development, the Constitutional Court of South Africa, on 10 October 2023, upheld a judgment from the High Court of Pretoria, declaring Section 7(3) of the Divorce Act as unconstitutional. This ruling has far-reaching implications for marriages entered before the commencement of the Matrimonial Property Act and has the potential to reshape the legal landscape concerning property rights in divorce cases. This article explores the Constitutional Court’s decision, the factors it considered, and the practical effects of this groundbreaking ruling on the division of assets in divorce proceedings.

A ruling, delivered in the High Court of Pretoria, declared that Section 7(3) of the Divorce Act was inconsistent with the Constitution, especially regarding marriages established on or after the enforcement of the Matrimonial Property Act. Following this, on 10 October 2023, the Constitutional Court affirmed the High Court’s judgment, declaring Section 7(3) of the Divorce Act unconstitutional.

Section 7(3)(a) of the Divorce Act reads as follows:

“(3) a court granting a divorce order in respect of a marriage out of community of property-

entered into before the commencement of the Matrimonial Property Act, 1984, in terms of an antenuptial contract by which community of property, community of profit and loss and accrual sharing in any form are excluded;

Some of the factors the Constitutional Court considered are as follows:

Differentiation between marriages entered before and after the Matrimonial Property Act. The court ruled as follows:

“In my view, the relevant differentiation is confined to spouses in old ANC (antenuptial contract) marriages. Within that group, spouses whose marriages terminate by divorce are treated differently from those whose marriages terminate by death, because the former class has the benefit of the redistribution remedy whereas the latter class does not.”

The discriminatory factor of the differentiation, in terms of section 9 of the Constitution:

“Even on the broadest view of ‘attributes and characteristics’, however, differentiation based on whether the marriage ends by divorce or death has nothing to do with the attributes and characteristics of the spouses.”

The justification of section 36 of the Constitution:

“Is the limitation on the equality right in section 9(1) of the Constitution justifiable in terms of section 36 of the Constitution? …”

The Constitutional Court then followed with “…it is the existence of section 7(3), coupled with the absence in any other legislation of a similar remedy for marital dissolution by death, that gives rise to the differentiation. It is understandable, therefore, that section 7(3) was the target of the attack. That the remedy might more appropriately be a reading-in of an analogous provision into the MPA is not fatal to the confirmation proceedings.”

The court afforded the Parliament 24 months to remedy the defect and stated that there is no reason that there should not be an immediate effective relief in the form of an interim reading-in. It was suggested by the High Court that the reading-in be as follows:

“A court granting a decree of divorce in respect of a marriage out of community of property—

(a) entered into before the commencement of the Matrimonial Property Act in terms of an antenuptial contract by which community of property, community of profit and loss and accrual sharing in any form are excluded;

(b) entered into before the commencement of the [Amendment Act] in terms of section 22(6) of the [BAA] as it existed immediately prior to its repeal by the [Amendment Act]; or

(c) entered into in terms of any law applicable in a former homeland, without entering into an antenuptial contract or agreement in terms of such law,

may, subject to the provisions of subsections (4), (5) and (6), on application by one of the parties to that marriage, in the absence of any agreement between them regarding the division of their assets, order that such assets, or such part of the assets, of the other party as the court may deem just, be transferred to the first-mentioned party.”

In conclusion, this means that parties married out of community of property without the accrual will be entitled to claim redistribution of assets despite their marital regime in their antenuptial contract. However, it must be kept in mind that this does not grant a party automatic entitlement and that the party claiming in terms of section 7(3) of the Divorce Act still has to prove their contribution towards the other party’s estate. Each matter will be dealt with on its own merits and the courts may make an order on what may seem just and equitable.

Reference list:

EB (born S) v ER (born B) and Others; KG v Minister of Home Affairs and Others (CCT 364/21; CCT 158/22) [2023] ZACC 32 (10 October 2023)

While every reasonable effort is taken to ensure the accuracy and soundness of the contents of this publication, neither the writers of the articles nor the publisher will bear any responsibility for the consequences of any actions based on information or recommendations contained herein. Our material is for informational purposes.

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Jan Fourie

Director |  Attorney, Notary & Conveyancer | BA. LLB

Jan graduated in 1974 with a five-year BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch, whereafter he was admitted as an advocate and prosecuted as such in the Cape Town and Wynberg Courts. In 1974, he joined Swemmer & Levin as the Candidate Attorney of Mr Levin (founding member) and was admitted as an attorney on 7 April 1976, as a conveyancer on 11 January 1978, and as a Notary on 19 December 1984. Since 1974, he has served in various committees, including the West Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Vredenburg School Committee, and the Malgas Lions Club. 

Furthermore, Jan was the author of the first bilingual law book, The New Debt Collecting Procedures (Die Nuwe Skuldinvorderingsprosedures), which was used by all the Magistrate Courts throughout South Africa. With the founding of the Small Claims Court in Vredenburg, Jan served as one of the first Commissioners. He is currently based at Swemmer & Levin’s Vredenburg office and has been with our firm for more than 47 years.

Pieter Smit

Director | Attorney & Conveyancer | BA. LLB

Pieter obtained his BA Law degree from Stellenbosch University in 1995 and his LLB degree from the North-West University in Potchefstroom in 1998. He served his articles at Marais Muller Attorneys from 1998 to 1999 and was admitted as an attorney in 2000 and as a conveyancer in 2002. Pieter is the founder of PP Smit Attorneys, which opened its doors in 2004. He also became a director of Swemmer & Levin in 2006. Pieter loves the outdoors and participating in all forms of sport, including tennis, golf, fishing, spearfishing, scuba diving, and hiking. 

Johann Maree

Director | Attorney | BA. LLB

Johann matriculated at Oudtshoorn High School and attended Stellenbosch University, where he obtained his BA Law and LLB degrees. Following his studies, he worked for three years as State Prosecutor at the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town. Johann completed his legal training with the State Attorney in Pretoria and then moved to his hometown, Oudtshoorn, where he worked as a lawyer for a year. In 1983, he finally moved to Vredenburg and joined Swemmer & Levin, where he is still practising as a director. When he is not in the office, Johann enjoys cycling and in his earlier days, he used to be a long-distance junkie.

Richard Phillips

Director | Attorney | Bcom & BProc

After matriculating at Paarl Boys’ High School, Richard completed his BCom and BProc degrees at the University of Port Elizabeth. He served his articles with Van Wyk Fouchee in Paarl and quickly developed an affinity for litigation. Richard has always had a deep love for the ocean and when he was presented with an opportunity to join Swemmer & Levin on the West Coast, he agreed without hesitation and has been with our firm since 1997. Richard specialises in general litigation and divorces. When he is not in the office or with his family, he tries to spend as much time as possible in or on the water.

Jandré Smith

Director | Attorney | LLB

Jandré grew up and matriculated in the small Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn. He furthered his studies at the North-West University in Potchefstroom, obtaining his LLB degree during 2015. He completed his articles at Swemmer & Levin in 2017 and was subsequently appointed as a professional assistant. In 2020, Jandré was promoted to the position of director at the firm, where he practises in the Litigation department at our Langebaan office. When not practising law, Jandré is an avid sports fan. He has a passion for nature and enjoys camping, trail running, and mountain biking with his family.

Andre van der Walt

Director | Attorney | LLB

Andre graduated in 2015 with an LLB degree from the University of Pretoria. He later went on to obtain his NQF 7 Certificate in the Administration of Deceased Estates from the University of South Africa, which allowed him to further his career in deceased estates and the drafting of wills and trusts. Andre served his articles at Barnard & Patel Attorneys under the supervision of Mr YAS Patel. After being admitted as an attorney in 2016, he continued working at Barnard & Patel Attorneys as a professional assistant in the deceased estates department.

Andre joined Van Rensburg Attorneys in 2019 and was head of the deceased estates department until 2021. He then received the opportunity to move to the West Coast, where he joined Swemmer & Levin Attorneys. Andre loves travelling and enjoys the beauty that our country has to offer with his friends, family, and loved ones.

Harmann Potgieter

Attorney | LLB

Harmann graduated in 2018 with an LLB degree from the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus. He went on to study and grow in various fields, including doing a course on the Consumer Protection Act and a course at the University of South Africa where he obtained his NQF 7 Certificate in the Administration of Deceased Estates.

Harmann completed his articles of clerkship at Swemmer & Levin under the supervision of Mr Richard Phillips. After being admitted as an attorney in 2020, Harmann continued with Swemmer & Levin as a professional assistant in the deceased estates department as well as the litigation department. He loves to study, possesses a deep curiosity about the world, and is dedicated to giving back to the community.

Carla Cloete

Attorney, Conveyancer & Notary | LLB

Carla obtained her LLB at the North West University, Potchefstroom Campus in 2015. She completed her articles in 2017 with Brits Dreyer Inc in Bellville. She is an admitted Attorney, Notary and Conveyancer. After her articles she relocated to Kimberley where she worked as a professional assistant in the Conveyancing department of Van de Wall Inc. Coming back to her Western Cape roots, she now joins the Swemmer & Levin team as a professional assistant.