Rethinking Volks v Robinson: The implications of appliying a "contextualised choice model" to prospective South African domestic partnership legislation

31 March 2011

The article considers certain critical failings of the so-called "choice argument" (that is the view that, by opting to cohabit in a life partnership rather than marry or enter into a civil partnership, a life partner is not entitled to the legal benefits provided by matrimonial [property] law) as it was applied to opposite-sex life partnerships by the majority of the Constitutional Court in Volks v Robinson.1 On the basis of Canadian jurisprudence, a "contextualised choice model" is developed that distinguishes between need-based claims and those involving property disputes, and holds that the "choice argument" could at best be relevant regarding the latter category of claims, while the existence of a reciprocal duty of support is sine qua non for any need-based claim to succeed. These findings are applied to registered and unregistered domestic partnerships under the draft Domestic Partnerships Bill, 2008, with the aim of suggesting certain amendments to the Bill in the hope of ensuring a more consistent and principled legal position once the Bill is enacted.