Spousal Maintenance during marriage South Africa

Is there a Spousal Maintenance during Marriage in South Africa?

In South Africa, spousal maintenance during marriage is not commonly awarded, as both spouses are typically expected to contribute to the mutual household according to their means and financial capacity. However, under specific circumstances, one spouse may claim maintenance from the other during the subsistence of their marriage, particularly under the provisions of the Divorce Act and in cases where they have entered into a separation agreement.

Legal Framework

Divorce Act

While the Divorce Act primarily deals with the dissolution of marriages, it allows a court to make interim orders for spousal maintenance while the divorce proceedings are underway. Although this technically occurs as the marriage is being dissolved, it is relevant to note because it reflects situations where one party may need financial support before the marriage officially ends.

Marriage Act and Customary Marriages

The Marriage Act and Recognition of Customary Marriages Act do not provide specific provisions for spousal maintenance during the marriage itself. Instead, they focus on the legal requirements for marriage and the equal status and capacity of spouses within the marriage. This implies that, under normal circumstances, each spouse is expected to support themselves and contribute financially to the marriage.

Common Law and Separation Agreements

Common Law Considerations

Under South African common law, there is no general duty for spouses to support each other financially during the marriage if they live together and the marriage functions as intended. However, if spouses are living apart, the situation might change, particularly if one spouse is financially dependent on the other.

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Separation Agreements

Spouses may enter into separation agreements that stipulate maintenance payments. Such agreements are legally binding if they have been properly executed and agreed upon by both parties. They can specify that one spouse will pay the other a certain amount of money regularly. This scenario typically arises when spouses decide to live apart without formally dissolving their marriage.

Practical Considerations and Examples


  1. Separation without Divorce: A couple may decide to live apart but remain legally married for various reasons, including religious beliefs or the interests of their children. They might use a separation agreement to outline maintenance payments to ensure that the financially weaker spouse can maintain a similar standard of living.
  2. Disability or Illness: If one spouse becomes unable to contribute financially due to illness or disability, the other spouse might agree to or be asked to provide financial support, especially if there is no insurance or other coverage available.
  3. Economic Dependency: In marriages where one spouse has foregone career opportunities to support the other’s career or to raise children, there might be a moral obligation or an informal agreement for financial support, though this is not strictly enforced by law unless stipulated in a legal agreement like a separation agreement.

In summary, while spousal maintenance during marriage is not a standard legal obligation in South Africa, there are mechanisms through legal agreements and certain common law principles that can provide for maintenance under specific conditions. It is always advisable to seek legal counsel to understand these options thoroughly and to ensure that any agreements made are legally binding and enforceable.