The legal case all South African newlyweds should know about

 ·10 Oct 2020

South Africa’s High Court has recently dealt with a case involving the sanctity of the marriage and the importance of saying ‘I do’.

The case, which was heard in the South Gauteng High Court at the end of September, revolved around a couple who had married out of community of property and are in the process of divorce.

The couple were married after a courtship which lasted two years and eight months, during which the defendant (the husband) verbally – and through conduct – expressed love for his wife (the plaintiff).

The defendant proposed marriage on 15 September 2018, and the plaintiff accepted, believing that the defendant loved her because he had represented to her that he loved her and wished to spend the rest of his life with her.

They married and the plaintiff expended money on the wedding in an amount of R331,342. But the marriage was short-lived.

Approximately a week after the marriage, the defendant began conducting himself towards the plaintiff in an ‘intentionally insulting and denigrating way’ and this culminated in him asking her to leave their home.

At this point, the plaintiff discovered that when the defendant proposed marriage to her he already considered that their romantic relationship had broken down irretrievably. However, he failed to disclose this to her.

The case

The plaintiff argued that the defendant effectively misled her and that he made a ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ which induced the marriage.

She subsequently made a claim on two grounds:

  • A claim under the lex aquilia based on the fraudulent misrepresentation – in which she claims the costs associated with the wedding;
  • A claim based on the impairment of her dignity and reputation arising from the conduct and circumstances described and the fact that such circumstances became public knowledge among the parties’ social circles.

The husband argued against both claims, noting that allowing them ‘would have the potential to have a negative impact on marital relationships which are vital to societal health and wellbeing.’

On the first claim, the court ruled that the claim could not succeed as it was part of the risks associated with entering into a marriage.

“In this case the plaintiff, like anyone embarking on this important rite of passage, was in a position to make a series of choices,” judge Denise Fisher said.

“Should she pay for the relevant expenses for the wedding or should she lay these costs at the feet of her intended spouse? Should she opt for a less expensive wedding or even the registry office?

“Should she deal with outlays and acquisitions which flow from the nuptial celebrations in an antenuptial contract? For example, it is common for parties to dictate that one or the other will be entitled to the wedding gifts in the event of divorce.”

However, the court found that the plaintiff could proceed with her claim around the impairment of her dignity.

In her ruling, judge Fisher said that this was especially pertinent in the age of social media, during which the potential for profound and widespread abuse of the dignity of intimate partners has increased exponentially.

You can read the full ruling below.

Read: South Africa set to change marriage laws

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