How to find a divorce lawyer in Cape Town, South Africa

Living with in laws (don't!)

A male client consulted me and advised that he and his wife had during the course of the marriage resided with his wife’s parents. His wife’s parents were wealthy Greeks who owned a twelve million rand house in Cape Town according to my instructions. My client, his wife and their ten year old son lived on the top section of the house and his in-laws on the bottom section.

My client had recently moved out of the house, and back in with his parents, as is quite common in a divorce situation. I asked him what the reasons were for the breakdown in the marriage and he said his wife tried to control him and was very possessive.

My client had, on his version, contributed significantly to the appreciation and growth in value of the house owned by his parents-in-law. He had done extensions and repairs to the house. A bond on the property had been taken out by my client’s father-in-law and my client had signed as surety on the bond.

Whilst studying contract law at Stellenbosch University my lecturer had given us sound advice, that being that you never sign as surety for anything. My client had made a blunder, as a bond for eight hundred thousand rand had been taken out on a property not owned by him, but by his father-in-law. Should the bond not be paid, the bank could therefore go for him as surety if they chose to do so.

The money from the bond was used to do the renovations on the property. My client did not foresee then that his marriage would some day come to an end. His parents-in-law had apparently also included him in their will. He felt trapped and didn’t want to be in a marriage where he wasn’t happy just so that he could inherit some day from his parents-in-law.

My advice to my client was that in the event of divorce he would definitely be entitled to be paid back whatever he had spent and invested in the property. Exactly what he would be able to claim back is never easy to calculate, as family hardly ever enter into any written agreements with each other in cases like this. Nobody ever foresees divorce.

I explained to my client that his wife and parents-in-law would no doubt have a different view on everything. They may well say now that my client and his wife had never paid rent on the property to live there, and that whatever my client had spent was because he had never paid rent. They would say that my client bound himself as surety for monies owed to them.

The parents-in-law were elderly and my client explained to me that they had difficulty looking after themselves. They very often left the stove on for example. I asked him what the exact agreement with them was when they moved in with them, but he told me that there was no agreement. And that is exactly what makes a divorce like this difficult to settle.

Even though the in-laws aren’t party to the divorce they often are involved, as in the case abovementioned, and the case can’t be settled until the issues with them are settled too. I urge clients to try avoid living with parents- in-law, if at all possible, as there are so many potential complications in the event of divorce.

This article was written by Cape Town lawyer, Peter M Baker

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Divorce & parental property debt


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