Regspraak: Einde van gemeenskaplike boedel van ’n egpaar getroud in gemeenskap van goed en aanvang van uitwissende verjaring van tersake vorderinge val saam
Author: JC Sonnekus
Affiliations: Universiteit van Johannesburg
Source: Tydskrif vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Reg, Issue 1, 2021, p. 184 – 199
But for an extraordinary order for a division of the joint estate stante matrimonio under section 20 or 21 of the Matrimonial Property Act 88 of 1984, the default joint estate of spouses married in community of property will come to an end with the demise of the marriage. This is either with the death of the firstdying spouse or by an order of the divorce court. It is impossible to extend the joint estate beyond these moments. With the end of the joint estate, the erstwhile spouses (or the estate of the demised spouse) are entitled to claim half of the value of the erstwhile joint estate. If the parties are unable to reach an amicable agreement to this end, a liquidator will be appointed to finalise the division of the assets. As from the end of the marriage, the former spouses have separate estates. Any new acquisition, gift, inheritance or income acquired after that date falls into the newly founded separate estate of the holder, and the other party has no claim to share in these assets. In Koko v Koko the respondent was married in community of property to Mr Koko in 1979 but that marriage ended in divorce by court order in 2001. The respondent left the previous marital home that was registered as joint property in the names of both spouses and retained inter alia some movable property from the erstwhile joint estate. Mr Koko remained in the house and continued to pay all rates and taxes, and the outstanding debt secured by a mortgage bond was amortised by the time of his demise. He later married the applicant and the couple lived in the house until his demise in 2013. Only years later did the respondent claim half of the current value of the immovable property as the still-registered co-owner. In this contribution, attention is devoted to the justifiability of the premise of the court that the claim should succeed notwithstanding the fact that more than nineteen years had lapsed since the applicable joint estate ended with the divorce order and the claimant did not contribute to the current unencumbered value of the property. If the claim to half of the value of the former joint estate is categorised as a personal right of the claimant, it is submitted that the effect of extinctive prescription should have been considered. By default, a debt is extinguished after three years and just the listed categories of debts mentioned in section 11(a) of the Prescription Act, including a judgment debt, will prescribe only after 30 years. It is submitted that the division of the joint estate is a natural consequence of the end of the marriage in community of property, and in KwaZulu-Natal orders for a division of the joint estate of parties married in community of property are consistently refused when divorce orders are granted for the very reason that they are unnecessary. In the absence of an applicable court order, the relevant debt cannot be defined as a “judgment debt” and the default prescription period governed by section 11(d) of Act 68 of 1969 should apply. It is inequitable that a previous spouse may, more than nineteen years after the divorce, benefit from the subsequent enhanced value of an asset that formed part of the erstwhile joint estate at the cost of another, who had contributed to that currently enhanced value of the asset since the joint estate came to an end. It boils down to unjustified enrichment if this is accomplished under the guise of her joint ownership of the immovable property still registered in the names of the former spouses as original co-owners because the real right of ownership is imprescriptible. A personal claim for half of the value of the assets in the estate would, however, have been prescribed after three years since the claim had vested.