Pointers on Family Law in South Africa
Family law is simply the law that governs domestic or family-related issues in South Africa and includes
- marriage or the legal status similar to marriage
- the dissolution of marriage
- the concerns affecting children
Each and every one of us will, at some stage in our lives, be affected by family law, whether it is the legal ramifications of forming a union with our chosen partner, the dissolution of that union, how the children of the union are affected or simply inheritance issues following the death of a family member.
As most issues relating to family can become contentious at times, it is crucial that there are laws governing all aspects of family relationships. Most of us will become far too angry or upset to deal with a breakdown in a family relationship, and this is where family lawyers are invaluable. They deal with the client's needs even-handedly, following the letter of the law every step of the way.
Marriage is basically a formal contract between a man and a woman that effectively sets out the rights and duties of each. In South Africa, we have laws governing civil marriage, Christian marriage, marriage by Muslim or Hindu rites, African customary marriage and even same-sex unions.
There are also several other unions that enjoy similar legal status to marriage, including cohabitation, common-law marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships, all of which have dedicated laws dealing with the finer intricacies of each.
Sadly, a growing number of unions end in acrimony, but fortunately there are also formal decrees that govern the dissolution of any partnership. Divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage and in South Africa there are only two grounds for divorce:
- Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage
- Mental illness or the continual state of unconsciousness of one partner
The latter speaks for itself, but with irretrievable breakdown, one or both partners have to prove in a court of law that the marriage is beyond salvaging. Evidence may include
- The couple not having lived together as man and wife for a period of time
- One partner conducting a sexual relationship outside of the marriage and the other finding it impossible to continue living with that partner
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Lack of love
In all instances, it is crucial that both partners engage family law attorneys so that they can be apprised of their rights. Sadly, it is often the children of the marriage or union that are most affected by the breakdown and family law will give clear direction with respect to custody and child support.
Family law is also critical in all aspects pertaining to children, such as whether they are born within the confines of marriage or not. Issues such as paternity, legitimacy, adoption, foster care and legal guardianship are also dealt with within the realm of family law.