An ordained pastor of a church started the new year off with bad news as a court ordered that he had to forfeit half of his wife’s R7 million pension during their divorce, as he was a “bad husband” during their marriage.
The wife told the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, that he can keep their matrimonial home, but she wanted his hands off her pension money.
The divorce was instituted by the wife after she and the husband have not been living together for more than 13 years.
The parties were married in 1983 in community of property ‒ which ordinarily would mean that the couple had to split their assets upon divorce.
The wife claimed a forfeiture of her pension benefits in relation to the husband primarily on the basis that the husband had grossly misconducted himself during the marriage.
Thus, she said, it would be unfair to allow him now to share her pension.
The husband, on the other hand, insisted that there should be a division of the joint estate, including the wife’s pension. He denied being a bad husband.
In support of her case, the wife also called their four children ‒ now adults ‒ to testify about their father’s conduct. Their evidence was uncontested, as the father had refused that his lawyers cross-examine the children. He said he would not allow them to be subjected to the indignity of cross-examination in a fight between himself and his wife.
The husband said it was “in bad taste” that his wife involved their children in their fray.
Judge Leicester Adams remarked that the evidence painted a picture of the husband as a bad father and an even worse husband, who treated his wife with little respect and his children with absolute disdain.
The wife, 66, testified that he spent most, if not all, of his money on his church. She was the one who had to pay for the household necessities.
This was confirmed by the children when they gave evidence.
The wife said the husband did not only financially abuse her over the years, but the verbal, psychological and emotional abuse was even worse, as confirmed by the children.
He constantly accused her of sleeping with other men and the wife was unhappy every single minute of the day. As was testified to by the youngest child, their son, it was surprising that the wife had stayed in the marriage for so long.
However, things came to a head in 2010 when the wife suffered a heart attack which she believed to have been as a result of the stress and the abuse she was subjected in her marriage.
During her subsequent hospitalisation, she received no support from the husband, who, according to her, in fact mocked her and implied that she was not really sick.
This was the final straw for the wife, who, shortly after her discharge from hospital, decided to leave her husband and the matrimonial home with her kids. Later that year she also caused a divorce summons to be issued against the defendant.
After the wife left the matrimonial home, the financial abuse intensified. The husband refused to maintain and support their last born, who was still a minor then and still at school. He also refused point-blank to allow the wife to return to the matrimonial home and made her ‘fend for herself’ for a period of about 13 years from 2010.
“If regard is had to the evidence as a whole, including the defendant’s testimony, the defendant was not a good husband. He failed miserably to discharge his financial duties and his legal duty to support his wife and his children during the marriage.”
“ Moreover, he was abusive towards his wife and his children. So, for example, their eldest daughter, who was 41 when she gave evidence, told the court that the defendant used to beat her up with a sjambok when she was growing up.”
The daughter said her father often told her that she was not his child, implying that the plaintiff had conceived her with another man.
“The abuse was ongoing and persistent, and it clearly had a lasting effect on the psyche of the children. The eldest daughter, when giving her evidence, broke down on at least one occasion. The trauma she suffered as a result of the abuse was clear for the court to see.
“The plaintiff herself became extremely emotional on at least one occasion whilst testifying. As I have already indicated, the evidence before me painted a picture of a husband and a father who misconducted himself in the unkindest manner possible towards his family, who ended up living in a cold and loveless household,” the judge said.
He said if one were to consider only the interest of the pension in her pension fund, the husband stood to gain R3.7 million.
“I am of the view that such a benefit receivable by the defendant would be undue,” the judge said.
He commented that the wife, in addition to being the one who quite clearly made the bigger contribution to the joint estate, also had to fulfill the traditional role of a housewife, mother and homemaker -‒ a fact which should not be undervalued simply because it is not measurable in terms of money.
The court ordered that the husband can keep the house, but it is hands-off his wife’s pension.