A woman who wanted her ex-boyfriend and father of her three children to pay her R56,000 in spousal maintenance following the termination of their relationship, had her application dismissed by a full bench of the Western Cape High Court.
EW dated VH for a period of eight to nine years and the couple had three children from their relationship. They broke up in April 2022.
During the relationship, VH gave EW approximately R100,000 per month for household expenses and maintenance.
A trust paid the rent for the former family home. The trust is under VH’s control, EW and the minor children were also beneficiaries of the trust.
According to court papers, after the break-up, VH drastically reduced the monthly amount paid to EW, he threatened to cancel the lease in respect of the former family home, and he launched an application threatening to take the children away from her.
To support her application, she mentioned a few pointers, including that they shared a common home for over seven years, the general public believed their relationship to be marriage, they referred to each other as husband and wife, and they shared responsibility for the upkeep of their common home.
She added that she had no assets and income and therefore cannot make ends meet without VH’s financial assistance.
However, VH said he was not duty bound to support EW and refused to contribute towards her maintenance.
After considering both arguments, the court said common law recognises a reciprocal legal duty of support between spouses during the subsistence of a marriage, and it is regarded as an invariable consequence of marriage.
However, parties in life partnerships have no remedy regarding interim financial relief during the subsistence and following the termination of their relationships.
The court said she must first provide facts establishing that the duty of support existed, and that it existed in a familial setting. If proven, her right to legal protection will be established.
Therefore, Judge Judith Innes Cloete and Judge Hayley Maud Slingers dismissed her application with no costs.
However, Judge Derek Wille was of a different opinion and gave a dissenting judgment.
A dissenting judgment is written by one or more judges expressing disagreement with the majority judgment.
Judge Wille said he agrees with most of the reasoning given by his colleagues, however, he would have granted a different order.
He said the absence of protection for life partners constitutes unfair discrimination against a group that has been traditionally disadvantaged and marginalised.
Furthermore, he added that many partners find themselves in EW’s position and are left without legal recourse when their life partners terminate the relationship.
“The discrimination here maintains the traditional power structure in which a male partner dictates the nature of the relationship and, therefore, the consequent entitlement to legal benefits flowing from the relationship.”
He added that courts must provide a remedy where there is discrimination because relationships between life partners have changed considerably over the last four decades on social, economic, and many other levels.