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Determining Spousal Support in South Africa: A Comprehensive Guide

In the event of a divorce, spousal support, commonly known as alimony, is a crucial factor that needs careful consideration. In South Africa, spousal support is not automatically granted and must be argued based on various legal and personal factors. This blog post explores how spousal support is determined in South Africa, highlighting the processes and criteria that influence these decisions.

Understanding Spousal Support

Spousal support is a financial payment made from one ex-spouse to another post-divorce. Its primary purpose is to mitigate the economic effects of divorce by providing a continuing income to a non-wage-earning or lower-wage-earning spouse. This is fundamentally about ensuring that a spouse who might not have maintained a career during the marriage can maintain a similar standard of living to that experienced during the marriage.

Legal Framework

The determination of spousal support in South Africa is governed by the Divorce Act of 1979. The Act provides that a court may grant a decree for the payment of maintenance by one party to another if it finds that the party in question cannot adequately support themselves post-divorce. The courts have considerable discretion in determining the amount and duration of these payments.

Factors Influencing Spousal Support

Several factors come into play when courts decide on spousal support, including:

  • Marital Regime: Whether the marriage was in community of property or out of community of property (with or without the accrual system) can significantly impact financial settlements, including spousal support.

  • Duration of the Marriage: Generally, longer marriages may lead to longer periods of spousal support. The rationale is that the longer the marriage, the more likely one spouse has become financially dependent on the other.

  • Standard of Living During the Marriage: Courts often aim to allow both parties to continue a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, although this is not always financially feasible.

  • Each Spouse’s Financial Circumstances: This includes both current earnings and the potential for future earnings. The age, health, and qualifications of each spouse are considered to evaluate their ability to support themselves.

  • Contributions to the Marriage: This includes not only financial contributions but also non-financial contributions such as child care and homemaking, which may have enabled the other spouse to advance his or her career.

Process for Obtaining Spousal Support

The process typically begins with one spouse filing a claim for maintenance during the divorce proceedings. The claim must detail the reasons for the request, supported by evidence of both spouses' financial situations. If the parties cannot agree on spousal support terms, the matter is settled in court.

A judge will review the circumstances and make a determination based on the needs of the applicant and the other party's ability to pay. The court's decision will specify the amount of monthly support and the duration of the payments. In some cases, spousal support can be awarded as a lump-sum payment instead of ongoing monthly payments.

Leoni Naude Inc Attorneys
Spousal Support


Spousal support is a complex issue that requires careful legal consideration. It hinges on fairness and the economic realities facing both parties post-divorce. For individuals going through a divorce, it is advisable to seek legal advice to understand fully how these factors may apply to their situation. In South Africa, the courts strive to balance the needs and capabilities of both parties, ensuring that the financial impact of divorce does not unduly prejudice any party.


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