An eye specialist earning R375 000 a month has failed to persuade the High Court to reduce, then entirely scrap, maintenance payments to his estranged wife after discovering she inherited R1.7m and was now ‘wealthy’. 

The ophthalmologist, who is defending a divorce action brought by his wife, was the sole financial provider for the family and for several years during the marriage paid her a monthly stipend of R15 748, reports TimesLIVE

The housewife obtained a court-sanctioned maintenance order in March compelling her estranged husband to pay R10 000 a month towards her living expenses, retaining her and their minor children on his medical aid and covering the reasonable costs of educating their children.

He was to continue paying the bonds on two properties and contributed R50 000 towards her legal costs. 

After the maintenance order was granted, the man paid R10 000 to his wife and stopped paying the usual monthly stipend. 

She returned to court to secure an urgent variation order, compelling him to pay the traditional monthly stipend in addition to the R10 000.

This was confirmed when the court ruled in May that he increase maintenance payments to R25 748 a month and pay a lump sum of R41 000. 

A month later he discovered she had received R1.7m which she ‘failed to disclose’ to court during their wrangle over maintenance.

He then approached the Eastern Cape High Court in a bid to set aside both maintenance judgments against him with retrospective effect from 6 April ‘being the date upon which (she) ceased to require maintenance’.

He argued the non-disclosure of the ‘material fact’ (regarding the inheritance) … meant 'the respondent had received judgment in her favour on falsified facts’. 

According to TimesLIVE, he contended the court had been misled by his estranged wife because she had earlier stated in an affidavit, ‘I am in financial distress and I am unable to afford my day-to-day living’.

His wife launched a counter-offensive, telling the court the eye surgeon had ‘considerable wealth’ while she was unemployed for more than a decade, raising their children.

She said he ran a successful medical practice, was a shareholder in a hospital as well as having numerous trusts under his control which owned various properties.

She admitted receiving an inheritance of R1.7m from her late mother’s land claim and denied being dishonest, notes TimesLIVE

‘She submitted she cannot be required to use her inheritance to maintain herself while the applicant has legal obligations to her. The inheritance is her only valuable asset. To use it as maintenance would go against the legal principle of preserving inherited wealth. She contends the inheritance is excluded from the joint estate as a matter of law,’ read the judgment.

The court ruled there was ‘no doubt’ the woman required maintenance, a need identified by her husband while paying the monthly stipend. 

‘The contention … that she is now wealthy and does not require maintenance means in simple terms that, he must now be completely relieved of an obligation he undertook many years ago (that of maintaining his wife by giving her a monthly stipend/salary); and she should deplete her inheritance towards maintenance in fulfilling an obligation her husband is obliged to fulfil in terms of their marriage regime. That reasoning is, with respect, flawed.’  

The court ruled the woman’s failing to disclose the inheritance payment – while  pleading poverty – was deserving of censure and should forfeit 50% of an earlier legal costs order granted in her favour. 

In the final assessment, the court ruled the surgeon would have to pay maintenance during the divorce proceedings of R25 748 per month, in addition to medical, education and bond costs.

Full TimesLIVE report