Our law provides for two types of universal partnerships: 1) where the parties agree to share all their present and future property; and 2) where the parties agree to share all the property obtained from a commercial undertaking. The difference between these two partnerships is clear. In the former instance, the parties agree that they will share all their property that they have acquired and will acquire in the future – this can be termed a “non-commercial” partnership. In the latter instance, only the property acquired as a result of a commercial undertaking is shared – termed a “commercial” partnership.
Our courts have had no difficulty in concluding that “commercial” partnerships are valid in the law, even where spouses who are partners are married out of community of property without accrual. In a recent case the court held that spouses who concluded a partnership agreement for the establishment of a fish farm, was found to be a separate legal entity from their marriage, and that they could share in the profits, which would accrue to their separate estates, just as it would if they were normal business partners.
Where spouses did not sign a partnership agreement, our courts have held that in the case of a “commercial” partnership, a partnership can come into existence tacitly, and to determine if a tacit agreement exists, the courts will look at the words and conduct of the parties to determine whether such a partnership existed. Where the conduct of the parties is capable of more than one inference, the test for the existence of a tacit universal partnership is whether it is more probable than not that a tacit agreement had been reached. From this, it becomes clear that our courts are developing their own approach regarding the recognition of universal partnerships.
In your case, in the absence of a clear partnership agreement confirming or denying the existence of a partnership, there is a strong possibility that your involvement with your husband in the family business provides grounds for being recognised as a tacit universal partnership, and that you would be able to have a claim for your share of the family business in the event of divorce. It is however recommended that you seek the assistance of a family law specialist to help you establish your position as well as to consider concluding a clear partnership agreement to avoid any future uncertainty.