WOMEN MUST KNOW THEIR CONJUGAL RIGHTS

Women should educate themselves on legal matters relating to their personal affairs, says Nthabiseng Monareng, a family law specialist.

Women should educate themselves on legal matters relating to their personal affairs, says Nthabiseng Monareng, a family law specialist.

Monareng, author of A Simple Guide to South African Family Law, says her office was recently inundated with calls from desperate women seeking legal recourse after finding themselves in sticky situations.

She says her office has had to deal with cases in which women who found themselves involved with the same man have lost everything because of a lack of knowledge.

"A woman said she had been married since 1996. The marriage did not produce any children so her husband brought home his three children from a "previous" marriage. The husband died in March last year and after the funeral the first woman appeared and claimed she was never divorced. Armed with a customary marriage certificate, the first woman now wants to claim from the deceased's estate," explains Monareng.

Monareng says men who remarry without obtaining a divorce decree create problems for their spouses.

She says a recent judgment in a case similar to this found that when a man marries a second wife and the first marriage was not dissolved, the second wife does not have any claim on his estate and can only claim damages.

"Though my client was not aware that her late husband was legally married to someone else, she does not have any claim on his estate," says Monareng.

She says her client might lose the house because it was registered in her husband's name.

"This dilemma is not only suffered by married women but by women cohabiting with married men," Monareng says.

She says a woman who lives with a man who is legally married to someone else is risking the possibility of losing the contribution she is making to the house in the event of the relationship turning sour.

"Women are unfortunately the victims when men leave their wives but do not do it correctly. Women who move in with men who claim to be divorced when they are not, usually end up losing everything. If a man says he is divorced, ask to see a copy of a divorce decree.

"Many women have been victims of men's behaviour. The solution is to educate women and create public awareness on the issue. They need to be educated about current legal positions and the implications."

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