It frequently happens that all the “dirt” comes out in a divorce. The truth about life is that you can never trust anyone really, not even your spouse. That person, who you trust with your whole life while you are married, can just as quickly turn on you when there is a problem in the relationship.
I consulted a client recently who had his own business. He earned about R 35000 a month net and another R15000 a month which he did not disclose to his business partner. He had confided in his marriage to his wife that he had not been declaring huge sums of money to his business partner.
But now that they were getting divorced, his wife was threatening to advise his business partner for not disclosing these sums, even though she had no doubt been enjoying the money during the course of the marriage. I have seen this exact thing happening in other divorce cases too.
It very often gets alleged in a divorce that the other party is trying to extort money. In this case my client’s wife was asking for three times more maintenance than she was legally entitled to, and if she didn’t get it, she was threatening her husband with revealing things to his business partner and him facing a potential civil law suit from his business partner.
A major case in our newspapers involving defamation and extortion claims was that involving a Johannesburg attorney. This attorney had launched an urgent interdict to block his former partner and her family from releasing a “dossier” allegedly revealing details of his dark side. The attorney said the family were holding the dossier over his head like a “loaded pistol” in order to blackmail him.
The attorney’s relationship with his partner had come to end, and he was clearly concerned about protecting his reputation. He wanted his ex and her family to hand over the original and any copies of the dossier to him. He also requested that the court file be sealed and kept under lock and key with the Registrar of the court, and that the hearing be held in camera. In the end the attorney failed to convince the Judge of the urgency in his bid to prevent a Sunday newspaper from printing a story about the case.
The truth of the matter is that often when parties get divorced, they will do anything to make their spouse look bad. And sometimes the motive in so doing is to get more money in the divorce out of the spouse. This is a dirty tactic to use.
All that can really be done to prevent defamatory remarks is opening a criminal case of defamation against the spouse. It is a criminal offence to defame somebody’s good name and reputation. You could also get an interim protection order against that person preventing further defamatory remarks.
If it is a situation where your spouse is threatening to disclose private information about you, like with the attorney abovementioned, all that one can really do is try to get a High Court Interdict interdicting that person from so doing. This may or may not be successful, depending on what the court believes to be in the public interest and what the court deems to be confidential and private information.
article written by Cape Town lawyer, Peter M Baker