Navigating the legal complexities of marriage in South Africa involves understanding various matrimonial property regimes. One such regime is the accrual system, which balances fairness and independence in marital asset management. This article delves into the intricacies of the accrual system, offering a comprehensive guide to help you make informed decisions.

What is the Accrual System?

The accrual system is a matrimonial property regime, for parties intending to be married out of community of property, that allows spouses to retain individual ownership of their assets and liabilities during the marriage. However, upon the dissolution of the marriage through divorce or death, the spouse with the smaller accrual (growth in estate value) is entitled to claim half the difference between the two estates’ accruals. This system aims to ensure a fair distribution of assets accumulated during the marriage while maintaining each spouse’s financial independence.

Key Features of the Accrual System

Independent Estates

During the marriage, each spouse’s estate remains separate. They are free to manage and control their assets without interference from the other. This separation includes liabilities, meaning one spouse’s debts do not affect the other.

Calculation of Accrual

The accrual of an estate is the increase in its net value from the commencement of the marriage to its dissolution (properly escalated by CPI to make provision for inflation). The initial value of each spouse’s estate must be declared in the antenuptial contract or a separate statement within six months of the marriage. If not declared, the initial value is presumed to be nil.

Exclusions from Accrual

Certain assets are excluded from the accrual calculation. These include:

  • Damages received for non-patrimonial loss.
  • Assets explicitly excluded in the antenuptial contract.
  • Inheritances, legacies, and donations from third parties, unless stated otherwise in the antenuptial contract.
  • Donations between spouses.

 The Antenuptial Contract

Importance and Execution

An antenuptial contract (ANC) is essential for couples opting for a marriage out of community of property with the accrual system. This contract, notarised by a notary public, outlines the financial arrangements and stipulations regarding the accrual system. It must be signed by the parties and executed by the Notary prior to the couple’s marriage to be valid.

Modifications in the Contract

The ANC can be tailored to fit the couple’s specific needs, provided same is not against public policy or against good morals. For instance, the accrual system can be made conditional on the marriage lasting a certain period or the birth of a child. Additionally, the couple can agree to share pre-marital assets or exclude certain assets from the accrual calculation.

Dissolution of Marriage


Upon divorce, the net value of each spouse’s estate is calculated by subtracting liabilities from assets, adjusting the commencement value for inflation, and excluding specified assets. The spouse with the smaller accrual can claim half the difference between the two accruals.


The same calculation applied on death. The accrual claim must be settled before executing the deceased’s will or intestate succession – in other words, it is given effect to first, before considering the deceased’s will, or before looking at the consequences that flow from intestate succession. If the surviving spouse’s accrual is smaller, they have a claim against the deceased’s estate, and vice versa.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Benefits of the Accrual System

  • Fair distribution of assets: Ensures both spouses share the wealth accumulated during the marriage.
  • Protection of pre-marital assets: Each spouse retains ownership of assets acquired before the marriage.
  • Financial independence: Each spouse can manage their estate independently during the marriage.
  • Protection from creditors: One spouse’s creditors cannot claim the other spouse’s assets.

Drawbacks of the Accrual System

  • Complexity in calculations: Determining the accrual can be complicated, especially in the absence of accurate records.
  • Sharing of profits: The economically stronger spouse must share the profits made during the marriage.
  • Requirement of an antenuptial contract: The accrual system only applies if an ANC is executed.

The Balanced Approach of the Accrual System

The accrual system offers a balanced approach to asset management and distribution. It allows each spouse to retain individual control over their assets while ensuring fair sharing of assets accumulated during the marriage. This dual benefit makes the accrual system a popular choice among couples who want to protect their financial interests while fostering a sense of partnership.

Key Features of the Accrual System

Independent Control During Marriage

During the marriage, each spouse maintains control over their assets and liabilities. This means that they can manage their finances independently, making decisions without needing consent from the other spouse. This independence can be particularly beneficial for individuals who own businesses or have complex financial portfolios. For example, if one spouse owns a business, they can continue to operate it without interference, while the other spouse manages their investments or personal assets separately.


Fair Distribution Upon Dissolution

When the marriage ends, the accrual system ensures that both spouses share in the wealth accumulated during the marriage. The spouse with the smaller accrual is entitled to half the difference between the two accruals. This ensures that both parties benefit from the financial growth experienced during their time together. For instance, if one spouse’s estate grows significantly due to successful investments, the other spouse, who may have focused on non-financial contributions like raising children, will still receive a fair share.

Exclusions and Customizations

The accrual system also allows for specific exclusions and customizations through the antenuptial contract. Assets such as inheritances, donations, and certain personal damages can be excluded from the accrual calculation. Couples can also agree to modify how the accrual system applies to their marriage, such as sharing pre-marital assets or setting conditions for the accrual claim. This flexibility ensures that the system can be tailored to fit the unique circumstances of each marriage.

Practical Examples and Legal Considerations

Consider a couple who marries with an antenuptial contract specifying that their inheritances are excluded from the accrual (this is usually automatically excluded). During the marriage, one spouse receives a significant inheritance, while the other grows their estate through business ventures. Upon divorce, the inherited assets are excluded from the calculation, ensuring that only the growth from business ventures is considered in the accrual sharing.

Another example involves a couple who decides to include a clause in their antenuptial contract that the accrual system will only take effect after ten years of marriage. This ensures that if the marriage ends before this period, each spouse retains what they brought into the marriage without sharing the growth.

Importance of Legal Guidance

Navigating the complexities of the accrual system requires careful planning and legal expertise. Consulting with a knowledgeable Notary is crucial to ensure that the antenuptial contract is drafted correctly and that all legal requirements are met. A Notary can provide valuable advice on how to structure the contract to protect both parties’ interests and ensure a fair distribution of assets in the event of dissolution.

Experienced notaries and attorneys can also assist in accurately calculating the accrual values, taking into account inflation adjustments and any exclusions specified in the antenuptial contract. This professional guidance helps prevent disputes and ensures that both parties are treated equitably.

Making Informed Decisions

Understanding the accrual system’s features, requirements, and implications enables couples to make informed decisions about their financial futures. By carefully considering their options and seeking legal advice, couples can create a matrimonial property regime that balances independence and fairness, protecting their interests throughout the marriage and beyond. Whether drafting an antenuptial contract or facing the dissolution of a marriage, the accrual system provides a robust framework for equitable asset management and distribution.


The accrual system in South African law offers a balanced approach to asset management and distribution. By understanding its features, requirements, and implications, couples can make informed decisions that protect their financial interests and promote fairness. If you are considering an antenuptial contract or facing the dissolution of a marriage, consulting with a knowledgeable Notary is crucial to navigate the legal complexities effectively.