‘Marital facade’ costly for ‘wife’s’ ex-husband

Jan 15, 2021 | Article

You can have a wedding ceremony in a church with a minister’s blessing … but that does not necessarily mean you are legally married.  This emerged when a woman sought continued maintenance from her ex-husband who believed he was no longer liable to pay as she had ‘remarried’.

The woman and her new ‘husband’ never signed a wedding register and the ‘marriage’ was not officially registered with the Department of Home Affairs. However, her ex stopped paying her maintenance of R10 000 a month, which he said he was only obliged to pay if she did not remarry. The woman held him in contempt and the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) ruled in her favour, declaring that the ceremony was not an official marriage and her ex-husband therefore violated the maintenance agreement.

The aggrieved ex turned to the SCA, which confirmed the earlier court ruling that the ceremony was not a marriage. The judges overturned the contempt of court order against the ex-husband, noting that as a lay person, he had accepted the advice of his lawyer to stop paying maintenance as he believed it was a true marriage. The fifth judge delivered a dissenting judgment: ‘But for the non-completion of the marriage register, it was a complete marriage ceremony’. He said the law was manipulated by the woman, aided by the minister, so the ex-husband would have to continue to support her even though, at the time, she had a new partner. ‘This, in my view, is a contrived and disingenuous scheme which a court should frown upon, instead of giving it its imprimatur,’ he said.