Calculating Accrual in a Divorce: What You Need to Know

Navigating the intricate world of divorce settlements is challenging, and understanding the principles of accrual is crucial. In South Africa, the accrual system plays a vital role in determining how assets are divided between divorcing couples. Here’s everything you need to know about this important legal concept.

What is the Accrual System?

The accrual system is a matrimonial property system incorporated into South African law by the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984. Essentially, the accrual system seeks to ensure that each spouse shares in the wealth accumulated during the marriage. This contrasts with the older systems of marriage in community of property (where spouses jointly own all assets and liabilities) and out of community of property (where assets and liabilities are kept separate).

How Does the Accrual System Work?

When a couple decides to marry under the accrual system, each partner’s net asset value is calculated at the beginning of the marriage. This starting value is known as the “commencement value.”

Over the course of the marriage, the spouses will independently or jointly acquire assets, and these will contribute to the accrual of each party. Upon dissolution of the marriage, the net accrual of each party’s estate is calculated by taking the net asset value at the end of the marriage and subtracting the commencement value.

Calculating the Accrual

Here’s a simplified step-by-step guide to calculating the accrual:

a. Determine the Commencement Value: This is the net asset value of each spouse at the beginning of the marriage. Couples can agree on this value in an antenuptial contract.

b. Determine the End Value: This is the net asset value of each spouse at the end of the marriage.

c. Calculate the Accrual for Each Spouse: Subtract the commencement value from the end value for each spouse.

d. Determine the Difference: If one spouse’s accrual is higher than the other’s, the difference is shared. The spouse with the higher accrual pays half of the difference to the other spouse.

Assets Excluded from Accrual

While many assets and liabilities will contribute to a spouse’s accrual, certain items are excluded:

Inheritances, legacies, and donations received during the marriage.
Assets explicitly excluded in the antenuptial contract.
Personal injury claims.
Damages awarded for defamation or for pain and suffering.

Benefits of the Accrual System

The accrual system offers several benefits:

Fairness: It ensures that both spouses share in the wealth accumulated during the marriage.
Flexibility: Couples can tailor their antenuptial contracts to include or exclude specific assets from the accrual.
Protection: If one spouse accumulates significant debt during the marriage, the other spouse’s assets are protected from creditors.

Importance of Legal Guidance

Because calculating accrual involves understanding both the values of assets and the intricate nuances of the law, it’s essential to seek legal expertise. Mistakes can be costly, leading to unfair settlements and prolonged legal battles. Skilled legal professionals, such as those found at, can provide guidance and ensure that your interests are protected.


The accrual system aims to bring fairness and equity to the division of assets in a divorce. It recognizes the contributions, both financial and otherwise, that each spouse makes to a marriage. However, understanding and calculating accrual can be complex. Before making any decisions or commitments, ensure you’re well-informed about your rights and obligations.

If you’re considering marriage or facing a divorce in South Africa, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the accrual system and its implications for your financial future. Remember, expert guidance can make all the difference in navigating these challenges, and platforms like serve as an excellent starting point to find experienced legal professionals ready to assist.

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