In South Africa, many people think that by simply living with their partners for a given amount of time (also called cohabitation), without entering into marriage, they are afforded the same rights as their married counterparts.


This is not the case, as SA Law makes no place for cohabitation, which often leaves people coming out of a long-term relationship stumped when their partner tries to claim ownership of their goods. If this sounds like something you are facing now, this is what you can do about it.


Prove the existence of a universal partnership


While South African law still does not provide adequate protection for those in long-term relationships, there is legal precedent that can be called on when the relationship ends. To do so, a universal partnership has to be proven to the court – and to prove that one exists, the court must be shown that both parties acted like partners in the material aspects of their relationship, without having entered into a partnership agreement.


This is difficult to prove to the court and can only be established if the following criteria have been met:


  • The partnership’s aim was to make a profit
  • Both parties contributed to the enterprise (relationship)
  • The partnership operated or operates to the benefit of both parties involved
  • There is a legitimate contract between the parties


To prove the above, the court will look at whether both partners contributed to the venture with their skills, labour and/or capital, and that it was conducted in such a way that both parties benefited, and made a profit.


Your rights as cohabitants


Unfortunately, no rights exist to claim maintenance or assets from another party in a long-term relationship under South African law. However, if you and your partner had entered into a cohabitation agreement, it will be recognized by the court, and its stipulations have to be followed.


In most other cases, such as property being shared, as long as you can prove that you have contributed to the property either directly or indirectly to its maintenance, the courts can divide the property in a fair manner.


If you are still uncertain as to your rights as cohabitants, or want to find out how to enter into a cohabitation agreement, contact us at your earliest opportunity!