MASERU – Advocate Reitumetse Moletsane indicates that to avoid circumstances where either party in a ‘vat n sat’ setting loses everything they contributed during the subsistence of the relationship, it is prudent that parties enter into what is known as domestic partnership contract. Vat n sat, as explained by Moletsane is a setting where two people in a relationship come and stay together as “husband and wife” without going through the proper rites of marriage. The advocate indicates that it is a trend commonly practiced in the urban regions than the rural.
She says the parties do everything that a married couple would do from having property and children together, and carry on like a normal married couple would. According to Moletsane, most people opt for cohabitation when they have been in a long-term relationship which could lead to marriage whereas others just do it because it is an easier option than marriage which would require either incurring costs of a wedding.
Others just do not want the marriage commitment but want to stay in a marriage-like setting. Unfortunately, she says, most parties in cohabitation relationships especially women make the mistake of believing they have rights in such a relationship without a written submission. This perception is according to Moletsane usually brought about by a number of factors such as the parents of both parties knowing that they are staying together as if they have endorsed the relationship.
Another factor that normally triggers such perception is if there is a child born out of the relationship and the man’s family performs birth rituals for the child or pays the damages to the girl’s family and the child takes on the name of the father.
“This perception can also be brought by the fact that the boy’s family refers to the girl as “makoti or ngoetsi ea rona” and she attends all family events. This perception has left a lot of women in distress when the so-called husband dies. It is then that women realize that they cannot claim from the estate because they were never married,” Moletsane explains.
To avoid such a sad scenario, Moletsane urges parties to enter into what is known as domestic partnership contract. She explains that that is a type of contract that establishes how the relationship will be governed.
The contract includes clauses such as how much a party is to contribute for general living expenses and how property will be obtained. The contract also covers what happens when the relationship ends, how the property will be divided, who gets custody of the children and so on.
“In determining if one is entitled to claim anything, the court first has to establish whether or not the parties intended to enter into a universal partnership. A universal partnership is one where two people opt to stay together in a permanent relationship without marrying for the joint benefit of the parties,” Moletsane sheds light on the matter.
She continues, “The court will look into whether the parties contributed either money or labour into the relationship, whether or not it was for the joint benefit of the parties and whether or not the intention was to build towards something they could profit from. Once these elements have been established, then the court will decide on how much either is entitled looking into their contributions.”
She says the reason the court does this is because it realized that most women end up losing everything when their partner dies and has tried to curb behaviour where one party’s family becomes entitled to everything even though it was obtained through shared efforts of the parties in the relationship.
The advocate’s message to anyone looking to enter into cohabitation is therefore that it is imperative that such parties approach a lawyer and get a contract drafted to avoid losing property because sometimes court cases take forever to be decided, whereas the terms of the contract can be enforced immediately where there is no dispute.
“Alternatively, the parties can execute a joint will and make the surviving partner the beneficiary of the other. However, this only caters for the death of either party. The contract caters for when the parties terminate the relationship and choose to go their separate ways and it can even include what should happen to the property when the relationship is terminated by death of either party,” she concludes.
Born and bred in Maseru, Moletsane went to the National University of Lesotho for her Bachelors in Law where she completed in 2018. She explains herself as an enthusiastic young lawyer who is passionate about the law in all respects. She emphasises that she is keen about using her knowledge and profession to disseminate information to others hence she also does public speaking events where she mostly tackles legal issues. She is currently on internship at Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation as the Legal Assistant Intern.