Unmarried partners in committed relationships recently received protection from the Gauteng High Court which turned the common law on its head by deciding that unmarried surviving partners may lodge claims for loss of support and maintenance against the Road Accident Fund. This case demonstrates the progressiveness of the South African judicial system and will likely have implications for all persons in long term relationships. The Judge in this case, Judge Collis, recognized that a duty of support may arise between a couple without them exercising the choice to solemnise their union, and these rights and duties should be protected even if they arose in a non-traditional way.
Previously, unmarried partners who had not contracted under a cohabitation agreement had no such claim and were left without legal recourse in matters concerning maintenance and loss of support.
In acknowledging that “cohabitation outside a formal marriage and, dare I say, even where one of the parties is still married, is now widely practiced and accepted by many communities” the court recognised its crucial role in developing the common law considering an ever-changing society.
This judgement provides those living in similar situations with clarity regarding their legal position, firmly stating that unmarried surviving partners may lodge claims for support and maintenance.
Whilst acknowledging that marriage remains an important pillar of society, the court accepted that relationships creating and maintaining reciprocal duties of support deserve legal recognition.
The case can be found here: Jacobs v Road Accident Fund (21427/2017)  ZAGPPHC 830
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