A marriage, a wise old lawyer once said, is a private contract between two consenting adults – none of us ever know what goes on when those doors are closed.
Another thing about our law is the absolute freedom of testation – if you have anything to leave when you shuffle off this mortal coil, you’re free to leave it to whoever you choose.
In fact, you could give it all to a home for distressed cats – as long as you look after those who you have a responsibility to support. It’s a rather expensive lesson singer Amor Vittone discovered this week.
She used to be married to rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, after successfully wooing him from his first wife. The couple were happily married – or so the celebrity pages of all the supermarket specials told us week in and week out – until a video clip was leaked with him, a girl, holy underpants (which bizarrely became the basis of his abortive alibi) and some white powder in a storm of allegations of a sordid sex tryst.
Things were never the same. The couple separated and Van der Westhuizen was dropped like a hot potato from his TV rugby commentary gig and then he contracted motor neurone disease. He redeemed himself in his darkest hour, with the immense grace and courage he showed right up until he eventually succumbed early last year.
His will, the one deemed valid this week for the winding up of his estate and the distribution of his assets was drawn up in 2015, except it was signed on his behalf by his then lawyer, because by that stage he couldn’t hold a pen.
Vittone wanted a previous will, signed in 2009, declared the competent will. According to it, she would get everything. In terms of the latest one, everything goes to the J9 Trust of which the couple’s two children are the only beneficiaries. The trust will continue to pay her maintenance for the children until they are old enough to inherit in their own right.
Courts are strange places. You sometimes even find justice there. The very best of our judges are gifted with rapier wit and excoriating obiter dicta.
Judge Hans Fabricius didn’t disappoint. He described Vittone’s bald claim that Van der Westhuizen was incompetent physically and mentally to have a new will drawn up as scandalous and slapped her with a cost order too that will bring more than a tear to her eyes.
Fabricius refrained from saying more about Vittone’s answers in court because of ‘respect and compassion’.
He didn’t have to. Nor it seems did Van der Westhuizen. He did leave her something, a television, an old one presumably.
It’s difficult to think of a more pointless, more disparaging gift in an age where technology is rendered redundant almost every six months year, and yet as an epitaph beyond the grave for the true state of their marriage – and the life he endured afterwards, it’s actually profound. Perhaps that’s what she was fighting all along. Or maybe it was just actually all about the money.
Originally published on the 17 November 2018 in the Saturday Star