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There is no common-law marriage in South African law and therefore the period of time that a couple spends living together does not translate into a default marriage. The principle of a universal partnership assists cohabitees by affording them a right to a share in the property acquired during the relationship.

South African courts have over the years defined a permanent universal partnership as an arrangement between parties who act like partners that both contribute to the partnership for their joint benefit/enrichment with the main aim of making a profit.

The majority of South African case law on universal partnerships is focused on the validity requirements of the universal partnership, whether or not the partnership legally came into existence and how dissolution and distribution should accordingly take place.


A universal partnership will exist if the following essentials are present:

i) each of the partners must bring something into the partnership, for example, money, labor or a skill;

ii) the partnership should be carried on for the joint benefit of the parties;

iii) the object should be to make a profit;

iv) the contract should be a legitimate one.

There need not be a written or oral agreement and our Courts have found that a tacit agreement may also prove a universal partnership.

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Author – Kate Bailey – Hill

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