Introduction: Why sign an Antenuptial Contract
The importance of an antenuptial contract cannot be over-estimated. In terms of South African Family Law, where a couple does not sign an antenuptial contract before tying the knot the marital regime applicable to their marriage will be that of in community of property. This means, the couple will share equally in one joint estate, are jointly and severally liable towards their creditors and does not hold independent contractual capacity. This further means a spouse to a joint estate cannot bind the estate contractually without the consent of the other spouse.
The aforementioned explains the importance of signing an antenuptial contract to protect the financial status of the couple, determines certain effects on the death of either spouse and to avoid quarrels in respect of who gets what should the couple decide to divorce.
Void or Voidable Antenuptial Contract
An antenuptial contract can be void or voidable for a variety of reasons. The antenuptial contract may be defective in respect of the identity of the signatories and may well be declared void from the beginning as if it never existed.
A further example could be that the couple may have legally composed and executed an antenuptial contract prior to marriage, but for some reason, it was not registered in the Deeds Office within three (3) months from the date of marriage. The problem is if the antenuptial contract is not registered, the legal consequences will be that of in community of property.
The antenuptial contract may still be binding between the parties but will not be binding on third parties (“Voidable”). This means the antenuptial contract may regulate the proprietary rights between the parties; however, creditors may still hold the parties liable jointly.
The COVID-19 lockdown period has caused a significant backlog at the Deeds Office the result of which has been that some antenuptial contracts did not register in time. Should the antenuptial contract not be registered within the requisite time period of three (3) months from the date of signing and the couple have not tied the knot yet, the antenuptial contract must be re-executed and lodged with the Deeds Office. Should the antenuptial contract be queried due to the requisite 3-month period that has elapsed before the date of marriage, then the parties must bring a High Court Application as set out below.
In terms of section 21 of the Matrimonial Property System Act 88 of 1984 as amended (“the Act”), the parties who find themselves in this unfortunate position may apply to the High Court jointly for an order changing the marriage from in community of property to that of out of community of property and to execute a Postnuptial Agreement. It is, therefore, critical to seek professional advice timeously. Contact SchoemanLaw for your antenuptial and post-nuptial needs.