Divorce can be a costly matter, especially if the parties knit pick every aspect of their divorce.
A woman, who asked the court to order her estranged husband to contribute nearly R2.5 million towards her legal fees, found this out in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
This is especially the position if both parties are using senior counsel for their drawn out divorce, the court heard.
The woman earlier obtained an order that her husband had to contribute R30 000 towards her legal costs. She now returned to court to ask for an order that the husband pay a further contribution towards her legal costs in the sum of R2 441 846.
This is for the legal costs that the applicant allegedly incurred up to and including the first day of the divorce trial.
In the opening to this judgment, Acting Judge C Marumoage remarked that this case highlights an unfortunate trend by some litigants in matrimonial matters who are legally represented and appear to have access to financial resources to litigate various aspects of their disputes before their marriages are dissolved by the courts.
“This case demonstrates how expensive family-related disputes can be when parties do not negotiate in good faith to reach reasonable and amicable solutions.”
The judge said this is particularly so when parties actively attempt to understate their incomes and hide their assets.
“Inevitably, this leads to different court actions and applications where parties pursue avoidable litigation against each other at great cost.
“When parties fail to sensibly resolve their matrimonial disputes, they will be unnecessarily stripped of their much-needed financial resources. Ultimately, legal representatives become the real financial beneficiaries of this litigious behaviour.”
The wife in this case is a businesswoman who is a sole member of a registered close corporation. Her husband is also a businessman, an independent contractor, a director, and the sole shareholder of a private company.
The applicant (wife) alleges that the respondent is wealthy and has several sources of income. She claims that he had failed to make full and frank disclosure of all his financial circumstances.
The applicant contended that her financial position since the respondent was initially ordered to contribute towards her legal costs has deteriorated.
According to her, she has been forced to borrow money from her friends and family to cover her legal costs which have increased significantly.
The applicant alleges further that she entered into loan agreements with fixed-term repayment terms.
The applicant told the court that from November 2022 to May 2023, the respondent’s bank statements demonstrate that he earned a total amount of R 9 889 166 which averages R1 648 186 per month.
She accused her husband of hiding his assets and said that since the start of the divorce proceedings, he also made several donations to various NPOs and church organisations totalling R1 663 854.
According to the wife, she simply does not make as much money from her exotic bird breeding business as her husband does from his various business interests.
She said he is the wealthier spouse and she is the poorer spouse and it places them on an uneven footing in their legal battles.
The husband in turn accused her of hiding her assets and said that her exotic bird breeding business is in fact very lucrative.
The judge concluded that the evidence before the court points to the fact that the applicant can pay for her legal fees from her business operations.
Judge Marumoage added that it cannot be denied that in a society such as South Africa with established income disparities and discrimination between men and women within marriages, courts should protect financially vulnerable women when so required.
It cannot be doubted that financially weaker spouses are usually women who are confronted by financially stronger spouses, usually men, who use their financial muscle to financially disadvantage them in matrimonial litigation.
However, the judge added, in recent times and with the advancement of women in various workplaces and sectors, there are exceptions to the general rule.
The applicant in this case does not seem to be economically disadvantaged, the court said in turning down her application.