Interim maintenance until date of divorce: Husband’s nightmare and wife’s weapon?

Trustees’ duties and powers
March 15, 2019
This article gives an overview of the purpose of interim maintenance applications, what considerations are to be taken into account when determining maintenance, the difference between the nature of an interim maintenance application in the Regional Court and High Court, and the possible detriment to husbands with an interim maintenance order against them.

Given the complicated nature of divorce proceedings, and the length of time required to finalise a divorce, the existence of interim relief until the date of divorce is often required by a party to a divorce who have been maintenance dependent on the other party during the subsistence of the marriage.

Rule 58 of the Magistrates’ Court Rules and Rule 43 of the Uniform Rules of Court make provision for a spouse to claim interim maintenance during the litigation process, a contribution towards costs of the pending matrimonial litigation, interim care of a child and interim contact with a child.

Rule 43 is being used far more often than Rule 58, because in the High Court it can take up to three years to get a trial date for a defended divorce, whereas, in the Regional Court, a defended divorce can be finalised within a few months. Therefore, interim maintenance is more important in High Court proceedings, because a party will have no other choice but to maintain himself/herself for up to three years until the divorce is finalised. Especially in the case of housewives who raised the children and cared for the home but have not been working or have not been economically active for years, a three-year wait for a trial date can result in a dire financial situation, if no provision is made for their maintenance until the date of divorce.

The other side of the coin is that a husband with a Rule 43 order against him, can be forced to pay maintenance for quite a lengthy period, especially if his wife as the plaintiff is well taken care of in terms of the Rule 43 order, then she will probably not be in a hurry to take the matter to trial.

A party can be entitled to a contribution towards legal costs. If a husband can afford a lawyer and good legal representation, his wife can be put in a position to litigate on an equal basis, by a Rule 43 or Rule 58 order compelling a contribution towards the wife’s legal costs.

Since it is possible to get a trial date in the Regional Court quite speedily, magistrates are often not inclined to waste too much time on an interim maintenance application, because it will not have a long-term effect, and it is better to determine the issue of maintenance at trial.

Rule 43 and Rule 58 orders cannot be taken on review, and cannot be appealed against, thus a husband with a detrimental Rule 43 or Rule 58 order against him can only apply for a variation of the original order, based on a change in financial circumstances. However, if he can afford to comply with the order, he has no other choice but to comply, and a failure to comply can lead to a contempt of court application against the husband. Rule 43 or Rule 58 orders can sometimes lead to parties settling the whole divorce sooner, especially in the High Court where a party will be compelled to comply with the Rule 43 order for three years.

The following factors are taken into account in the determination of maintenance: existing or prospective means of each of the parties, their respective earning capacities, financial needs and obligations, the age of each of the parties, the duration of the marriage, the standard of living of the parties prior to the divorce, their conduct so far as it may be relevant to the breakdown of the marriage, and any other factor which in the opinion of the court should be taken into account.

In Taute v Taute 1974 (2) SA 675 (E), it was determined that interim maintenance will be determined according to the “marital standard of living of the parties, her actual and reasonable requirements and the capacity of her husband to meet such requirements.” It was further held that, “I have found nothing, however, in the decisions to which I have been referred which justify in such maintenance the inclusion of extraordinary or luxurious expenditure even in the case where the husband is ‘very wealthy’ or ‘very rich’.”  This decision makes it clear that a wife will not be entitled to anything that she was not entitled to during the subsistence of the marriage, and that a court will not make a finding for luxurious expenditure.

Kroon v Kroon 1986 (4) SA 616 (E) held that, “The position in our law is that no maintenance will be awarded to a woman who can support herself.”  It was further held that, “What does the plaintiff want and what does she need? Wants and needs are two different things. People usually want more than they need.” This decision makes it clear that a woman who has no need for maintenance, because she earns an income and can support herself, will not be entitled to maintenance.

If parties were married for a long period of time, a party would be more likely to get interim maintenance, and permanent maintenance at trial. Furthermore, the age of the parties would play a significant role in determining interim maintenance and permanent maintenance, because, for example, for a 60-plus woman with no formal education, and who have no formal work experience, it will be difficult to obtain employment.

In Nilsson v Nilsson 1984 (2) SA 294 (C), it was determined that, “The shorter the duration of the marriage, the more important the conduct of the parties within the relationship – their respective ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ – would ordinarily be in relation to the question whether maintenance should be paid at all.” If a woman is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, her conduct would weigh against her getting interim maintenance, especially in the case of a short marriage.

Interim maintenance remains a thorny issue, and in an ideal world, such orders would not have been necessary at all, which is more or less the case in a Regional Court divorce. However, in the High Court, it remains an important instrument to ensure that a divorce is handled in a fair manner, and that a wife is not being left without maintenance, or unable to effectively litigate against her husband.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

SRA
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