Regspraak: Troosgeld is deel van ’n reghebbende se afsonderlike boedelbates en nie deel van die gemeenskaplike boedel nie – verpligte deling troos nie
Author: JC Sonnekus
Affiliations: Universiteit van Johannesburg
Source: Tydskrif vir die Suid-Afrikaanse Reg, Issue 1, 2022, p. 159-171
Although a husband and wife married in community of property share by default, if not design, all their patrimonial assets in the common estate, the solatium or compensation received by an injured person as satisfaction for the unjustified injury to his or her personality rights is not supposed to form part of the common estate – simply because it happened to be received in the form of a patrimonial asset. It is meant to be private or separate and for the comfort of the injured only. The purpose of the compensation received as solatium is not to fill a vacuum left by the delict in the injured party’s assets, but to serve as the only mode of solace available to law to provide redress for the wrong. Other than the position where a patrimonial asset of the claimant had been damaged, eg by the negligent car accident caused by the respondent, and where the awarded damages neatly compensate the wronged party for the damage caused, thereby placing the total estate in the same position where it was before the intervening delict, the solatium paid to the injured for the non-patrimonial damages suffered by the delictual inroad on his/her personality rights is not supposed to redress a negative impact on the total estate of the wronged. The spouse of the injured party, even where they are married in community of property, would never have been able to lay claim to those personality traits or attributes of the other spouse. Personality rights, per definition, never form part of the assets of any patrimonial estate and should not be shared simply because the matrimonial property regime happens to be community of property. The legislature correctly stipulated in section 18(a) of the Matrimonial Property Act 88 of 1984: “Notwithstanding the fact that a spouse is married in community of property – (a) any amount recovered by him or her by way of damages, other than damages for patrimonial loss, by reason of a delict committed against him or her, does not fall into the joint estate but becomes his or her separate property” – emphasis added. This formulation echoes what has been the legal position for ages. Along those lines Hiemstra J in Potgieter v Potgieter correctly held that the amount awarded as contumelia to the injured husband for the harm done to his personality rights by the adultery of his wife and the third party, would not form part of the joint estate but would be his separate property. In so doing, the court precluded the adulteress from further sharing in the spoils of her doing. In the underlying decision by the majority of the supreme court of appeal, however, it was held that section 18(a) should be read to be limited: “The context of s 18 must be read in its entirety, and apparent therefrom is the plain language and words used. [This] … section highlights that delictual damages received by a spouse during the course of a marriage in community of property, which are nonpatrimonial in nature (s 18(a)); and damages for bodily injuries owing to the fault of one’s spouse in terms of s 18(b) must be excluded from the division of the joint estate on divorce” (par 9 – emphasis added). In this case a very significant amount was received by the lady for the non-patrimonial loss suffered by her more than four years before the marriage had been concluded. According to the reading-in exercise of the supreme court of appeal it was not received “during the course of the marriage” and not ringfenced. As a consequence, the court upheld the appeal of the erstwhile husband after a marriage of very short duration (barely two years). He consequently successfully laid claim to fifty per cent of the more than half a million paid as non-patrimonial compensation to his wife, more than four years before he married her in community of property and only after becoming aware of the significant amount of that compensation invested by her. This decision not only flies in the face of logic and the legal principles underlying South African common law; it is in conflict with the latest developments in comparable Continental legal systems sharing the same historical and societal foundations as the South African law. This judgment provides poor consolation and it leaves a deeply imbedded discomfort, because the result is vehemently contrary to the outcome in comparable legal systems for a similar scenario. Dividing the solatium under the pretext of a division of the joint estate diminishes the solace intended for the injured.