Politician’s wife forced to pay legal costs in maintenance battle

2015-02-15 15:00

Divorce lawyers are sharply divided over whether R90?000 is adequate maintenance, or if the estranged wife of a high-profile ANC politician is being “outrageous” by asking for more.

The former couple cannot be named because a court ruling prevents the disclosure of their identities.

On Thursday, the South Gauteng High Court dismissed her claim of R140?000 a month for herself and her two children (aged 21 and 23), who she supports.

In an affidavit filed before the court, the 54-year-old woman said she needed R60?000 for rent for her home; R22?500 for food, groceries and cleaning materials; R9?750 a month for clothes and shoes; R3?000 for fresh flowers, plants and household accessories; and R2?990 for toiletries and vitamins.

Her estranged husband is personally paying her R50?000 and she gets R40?000 from a trust.

“I acknowledge that, over and above the R90?000, the respondent pays R20?000 a month for each child, as well as certain of their expenses,” she wrote in her affidavit.

She also wanted R8?million for “legal and expert costs”.

The court dismissed her application and ordered that she pay her estranged husband’s legal costs.

A well-respected Joburg divorce specialist, who asked not to be named, said the judgment, and particularly the court’s order that the woman foot her soon-to-be former husband’s legal costs, had left her “speechless” and “deeply despondent for women in this country”.

But Ludwig Behrens, a lawyer at BDK Attorneys who is not involved in the case, told City Press on Friday he thought the amount the woman was getting while the divorce was still pending “is reasonable”.

“The court has to sit and exercise its discretion, and reason must prevail,” he said.

“The applicant has to accept they are in a process of divorce and the circumstances have to change – she has to cut back.”

Ceri von Ludwig, who works for a divorce and family law firm in Sandton that is also not involved in the case, said the complainant was “unreasonable” in her claims.

“With every claim you make, you have to support those claims and show your reasonable needs,” said Von Ludwig.

The woman’s application was what lawyer Graeme Greenstein of Greensteins Attorneys said was a “Rule 43 – a procedure designed to give litigants going through a divorce monetary relief for maintenance and a contribution towards legal costs”.

He said litigants using this rule should be conservative and reasonable in their claims, “and not formulate claims which can be seen to be excessive”.

“There are vast differences between orders granted by the high court and the maintenance court. Each case has to be judged on its own merits,” said Greenstein.

“Unlike certain countries overseas, there is a formula applied and a percentage of income is used towards maintenance.”

One of the woman’s close friends said she felt let down by the ruling.

The friend, who asked not to be named, said the couple had been married for 21 years.

“When they married, they were penniless. Now they are worth many millions or billions,” said the friend.

“But he and the trustees of the two family trusts are in control of everything. He flies on private jets.”

The friend said the female complainant “lives in a small cottage”.

“She has had to move six times in the past three years since they separated.

“At times, she has had to share a bed with her adult daughter for months at a time.

“Her hands are disabled with crippling arthritis and she lives in constant pain. She cannot afford to have the surgery she so desperately needs.”

Another source close to the complainant said the woman was “very disappointed by the ruling” but was “strong”.

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