The Cost of Divorce in South Africa
In South Africa, should spouses not wish to be married any longer, they have the option to dissolve their marriage relationship by a divorce in the form of an order granted by a court.
Types of Divorces
A divorce will either be unopposed or opposed. An unopposed divorce (sometimes called an uncontested divorce) is when spouses can agree on how the estate will be divided and come to some sort of settlement regarding the estate, maintenance or issues surrounding children born from the marriage.
An opposed divorce (sometimes called a contested divorce) is the exact opposite of an unopposed divorce, being that there are disputes regarding different aspects of the existing marriage such as the estates of the spouses, issues surrounding children or maintenance disputes. In the event of an opposed divorce, the process is much longer as the parties will have to serve correspondence via their attorneys to one another and potentially proceed to trial to have the aspects in dispute argued.
How long does it take?
Divorce processes are traditionally lodged in the High Court in South Africa and as a result, costs can be quite high especially for opposed divorces. Due to the limited number of High Courts in South Africa and the high number of divorces in the country, the court rolls for the High Courts were usually overburdened and parties would have to wait quite a long time, especially if the divorce is contested.
The Regional Courts Amendment Act came into operation in 2010 to amend the Magistrates’ Court Act to allow regional divisions of the Magistrates’ Courts to also deal with divorce cases. This had the effect of lowering the costs of divorces which were pursued in the Regional Courts as well as removing some of the burden on the rolls in the High Court.
Typically an unopposed divorce can be finalized in as little as 4 weeks, and an opposed divorce can take between 2 – 3 years; many of which become settled before they proceed to trial.
Which Court to Approach?
With the above-explained inclusion of the Regional Court having jurisdiction over divorces, this meant a large influx of divorces into the Regional Courts due to the costs being lower, in effect encumbering the rolls in the Regional Court.
As the situation currently stands, it is quicker but more expensive to get divorced in the High Court and slower but cheaper in the Regional Court, this is perpetuated if the divorce is contested.
In the High Court an advocate is usually appointed by your attorney to deal with the matter which in turn, translates to extra costs, especially if the advocate has to proceed to trial in an opposed divorce; a divorce in the Regional Court will usually be dealt with by the attorney which you have instructed, meaning lower overall costs.
There is a third option of so called “do-it-yourself” divorces. These divorces are cheapest and can be carried out in the Regional Court. The necessary forms can be supplied to you by the court as well as some guidance on how to conclude such a divorce without legal representation. This may be an appealing option if the divorce is unopposed, there are no substantial assets which need to be divided, there are no disputes regarding maintenance or children and you are prepared to do all the administration yourself.
In keeping costs low, it is advisable for the spouses to attempt to come to some sort of settlement regarding the divorce to avoid proceeding to trial.
It is difficult to give exact values for the cost of an opposed divorce as each one is different as far as procedure goes. For unopposed divorces, most attorneys will charge some sort of fixed or sliding fee.
Du Toits Attorneys charge an extremely competitive, fixed fee for unopposed or uncontested divorces. Contact us for further information regarding the potential costs involved in your divorce.
Magistrates Court Act, Act 32 of 1944 (as amended)
Divorce Act, Act 70 of 1979 (as amended)
Family Law; The Divorce Process in South Africa (Date Unknown) Accessed at: http://www.divorcelaws.co.za/the-divorce-process-in-south-africa.html (Accessed on 16 July 2017)