Protect your rights in a cohabitation affair

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

Much has been said about the joys and benefits of unmarried couples living together, but not often do we hear about the dangers of this arrangement.

In her book A Simple Guide to South African Family Law Nthabiseng Monareng, an expert in family law, warns against this union.

"A high number of people are cohabiting, but unfortunately cohabitation is currently not yet legally recognised in South Africa and does not have legal protection," she says.

Monareng warns against the assumption that people who have lived together as husband and wife but are not married, can claim against each other, thinking that they are entitled to certain rights.

"They think that because they have lived together for a long time and even have children automatically equals to a marriage and therefore are within their rights to have benefit of certain things. The truth is, there is no such thing. If you live with your partner but are not married, the law will regard you as boyfriend and girlfriend, and you will not be entitled to the same benefits as married spouses," says Monareng.

Couples in cohabitation relationships cannot claim support from a partner as is the case with married couples.

"If cohabitants want to get support from each other, they have to draw up an agreement, which will state that both parties agree to support each other or that one of them will support the other," explains Monareng, adding that a cohabiting couple cannot claim maintenance when one partner dies or inherit unless she or he is named as a beneficiary in a will.

If the deceased did not have a will, Monareng says, the estate will go to the dead partner's relatives.

She says in the event of a break-up, cohabiting couples can only leave with the assets they brought and those acquired during the relationship.

l Rights of cohabitants

Cohabitants can include each other in their medical aids, provided the rules of the scheme allow it.

They can include each other as beneficiaries in insurance policies or as dependents under pension funds.

They are exempt from paying donation tax if they make a donation to each other.

l Be warned ...

If, for example, you clean the house, wash clothes and cook for your partner, upon the termination of the relationship you will not be paid or get a reward for doing these chores.

If you are living in his house, when the relationship ends you will have to find another place.

lCohabitation agreement

You need to have an agreement of your rights and responsibilities.

Agree on living arrangements and what will happen when the relationship ends.