Short description of forfeiture in divorce proceedings

01 February 2024,  André Styger 172

In the context of divorces in South Africa, forfeiture refers to a legal principle that allows a court to deprive one party of certain benefits or entitlements arising from the marriage. This typically occurs when one spouse is found to be at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, such as through misconduct or a breach of marital duties. Forfeiture aims to address the perceived injustice or inequity caused by the actions of one spouse by limiting their access to certain marital assets or financial benefits during the divorce settlement. The court may consider factors such as adultery, abuse, or financial misconduct when deciding on forfeiture in order to achieve a fair and just distribution of marital property and support. It's important to note that the application of forfeiture in divorce cases can vary based on the specific circumstances and legal interpretations by the court.

Let's consider a practical example of forfeiture in a divorce case:

Imagine a married couple, Sarah and John, who are going through a divorce. During the proceedings, it is revealed that John engaged in financial misconduct by dissipating significant marital assets through reckless spending and questionable investments without Sarah's knowledge or consent. The court may find John at fault for the breakdown of the marriage due to his financial misconduct.

In this scenario, the court might decide to apply the principle of forfeiture. As a result, the court may order that John forfeits a portion of the marital assets or financial benefits that he would have otherwise been entitled to in the divorce settlement. This could include forfeiting a share of the property acquired during the marriage or a portion of the spousal support that he might have received.

The aim of this forfeiture is to address the unfair advantage gained by John through his financial misconduct, ensuring a more equitable distribution of marital assets and support between the spouses. It's important to note that the application of forfeiture is discretionary and depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case as determined by the court.